It’s impossible to think or talk about Waitress without recognizing the tragic fate bestowed on its creator, Adrienne Shelly. The 40-year-old indie-actress-turned-filmmaker was murdered in her apartment this past November, an event that grabbed the attention of even the most detached, self-involved movie fans.
Many people will say that Waitress, her final film, is only getting positive press because of the controversy surrounding it. And while it’s true that fewer people would know of its existence otherwise, it doesn’t change the fact that this is a wonderful little movie. It’s not just worth seeing because it’s the last thing she’ll ever do; it’s worthy of your time because it’s enchanting, the type of film that sneaks up on you with all its subtle, honest beauty.
Keri Russell, in her heftiest role since 1998’s ‘Felicity’, plays Jenna, a small-town waitress who escapes the drudgery of life by baking ever-so-tasty pies. She’s married to volatile, control freak Earl (Jeremy Sisto), and the news of an unwanted pregnancy leaves her with an instant case of morning sickness. To channel her frustrations, she whips up a new recipe, “Baby Screaming Its Hard Off In The Middle Of The Night And Ruining My Life Pie,” a cheesecake coated with brandy brushed pecans and nutmeg.
Unlike most movies where a woman becomes pregnant and it promptly changes her life for the better, Jenna spends her whole pregnancy displeased about it. This isn’t the life she wanted for herself but it’s the one she got, and she’ll make the most of it--even if it involves sleeping with her clumsily appealing gynecologist (Nathan Fillion), who is also married. It’s entirely inappropriate, but Waitress doesn’t try to win you over with its flawless, Stepford Wife characters. It’s about people trying to find their slice of happiness, often in foolish places, and its uncalculated journey is what makes it so refreshing.
At its core, Waitress is a dark comedy, which is a perfect tone for the movie. It’s as much about exploring its confused characters as it is about entertaining the audience with its sharp, uneasy humor. When Jenna’s friend Becky (Cheryl Hines) obsesses over the alignment of her breasts (“I’m like a Picasso!”) and Dawn (Adrienne Shelly) succumbs to a nebbish guy who recites spontaneous poetry (of the very bad variety), it’s hard not to be entertained.
The film also bursts with stylish flavor. Much in the way that Pedro Almodovar celebrates women’s splendor with every frame, Waitress is like a love note to the art of pies. Be prepared to make a dash to the nearest bakery after seeing the confectionary goodness displayed onscreen. Never before has a pie looked so deserving of its own museum case.
Waitress may not break any terribly new ground with its storyline, but its sympathetic characters and enticing blend of sugar and spice make it feel fresh and different. It’s a delectable treat that goes down easy as, well, you know.