Guys need to be leery of romantic comedies. We go to see them at the behest of our wives, girlfriends, or someone we hope will become one or the other. It usually doesn’t work out well thanks to likes of Kate Hudson, Ashley Judd, or Jennifer Aniston. All is not lost for the romantic comedy, though, when you can get something pretty good like Waitress every once in a while.
Writer/director Adrienne Shelly works hard to make Waitress more than just your standard chick flick. No easy task. That said, by infusing the tired premise of a small-town gal looking to start her life over with real humor, beauty, and quirkiness, she rises above the standard romantic comedy to something just this side of great.
Keri Russell, in a role she owns from the first frame, plays Jenna, a small town waitress. Married to an abusive and needy jerk, Earl (Jeremy Sisto), Jenna’s one sliver of joy is making the pies sold in the restaurant where she works. Jenna gives them names corresponding to what’s going on her life. After finding out that she’s pregnant she immediately creates Bad Baby Pie; believing the baby will tie her to Earl forever.
Not long after taking her pregnancy test, Jenna meets Dr. Pomatter (Nathan Fillion), her married obstetrician. They begin an affair which Jenna sees as a chance at happiness in her dreary life. Diner owner Joe (Andy Griffith) smokes her out immediately, but her waitress buddies (Cheryl Hines and Shelly) have their own relationship issues to deal with. Everyone spouts funny one-liners that don’t ring exactly true but keep a smile on your face as Jenna works through her darker life situation.
The whole movie rests squarely on Russell’s slim shoulders. She’s more than up to the task. Lacking the whininess or false “spunk” that ruins so many of these kinds of movies and television shows, she perfectly conveys someone trying to make it through life without many options. Not at all happy about the baby, she doesn’t cry or bemoan, but straightforwardly responds to Dr. Pomatter’s congratulations with, “Thanks, but I'm not so happy about it like everybody else might be. I'm having the baby and that's that.” Fillion does a fine job as the ostensible love interest, but since Jenna is the focus, he’s often pushed to the side. His lack of confidence and clumsiness could be his normal personality or the effect of Jenna, we just don’t know.
There are other small plot points, primarily the relationships of Hines and Shelly that are only half-formed. The two women do, however, provide the bulk of the comic relief along with Eddie Jemison as Shelly’s slightly crazy stalker boyfriend. The lack of well rounded supporting players is a minor defect, but Russell deserves every second of her screen time. Her answers to Earl when he orders her to say she loves him, her serenity when baking, the smile on her face after she and Dr. Pomatter have been together, everything about her works in this movie.
Waitress opens up the chick flick to everyone. The ending is a little too pat and strains credulity but the first 100 minutes are a pleasure to watch. Russell deserves recognition come awards time. This is a step above the usual estrogen fueled blather, give it a look.
Writer/director/co-star Adrienne Shelly was found murdered in her office apartment in November 2006, about seven months before the movie’s theatrical release. She obviously wasn’t able to take part in the preparation of this DVD release, but her influence is still all over it. Two of the extras are memorials to her and in the other featurettes she is shown in an older on-set interview. Also, every cast and crew member who talks about the movie pays homage to Shelly as the guiding creative force and energy on the set.
Shelly died before the commentary could be recorded, so the role that would naturally fall to her is taken up by star Keri Russell and producer Michael Roiff. Frankly, it’s not that great. Neither contributor provides much interesting info and their presentation is a little blah. Still, it’s not typically to even have a commentary for a pretty low budget film like this, so they deserve a few kudos for trying.
There are several featurettes included with the disc, more than I would have expected. The basic “making-of” extra, called “This is How We Made Waitress Pie,” is about ten minutes long. All of the main actors are interviewed (except Andy Griffith) and some behind-the-scenes footage is shown. It’s not unlike many of these things you’ve seen a hundred times. There is a separate featurette focusing on Keri Russell called “Hi! I’m Keri, I’ll Be Your Waitress.” About five minutes long, it discusses the Jenna character in more detail, but adding the information to the extra described above probably would have been fine, there really isn’t enough new info to warrant another featurette.
There are three interviews from the Fox Movie Channel with Keri Russell, Nathan Fillion, and Cheryl Hines. Each is three minutes and the one with Russell provides much of the same information as is provided in the other extras. The interviews with Fillion and Hines are a little more in depth about their characters than is provided elsewhere, so fans of those two actors might benefit. A real throw-away extra called “The Pies Have It!” discusses the pies that are made throughout the film, their place in the story, and the cast members' favorite type of pie.
The final two extras deal directly with Shelly and her death. The details of her murder are never mentioned, but in “Written and Directed by Adrienne Shelly: A Memorial” her spirit and energy are lionized by her co-workers. Russell also does a one minute PSA on the Adrienne Shelly Foundation, started by Shelly’s husband after her murder. The foundation is designed to help female filmmakers.
The picture on the DVD is crisp but the volume is very low. We had to turn it up to our highest level to clearly hear the dialogue. It’s not the whole disc, since the previews can be played at a normal volume, but the movie itself is abnormally low. Other than that, the disc has enough in the way of extras combined with a good movie to warrant picking it up. This is the chick flick that guy’s should steer their women towards.