WAITRESS
© 2007 by C.E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.

As both an actress (perhaps best known for her
work in early Hal Hartley films) and as a director
(
SUDDEN MANHATTAN, I'LL TAKE YOU
THERE
), the late Adrienne Shelly projected a
quirky but sweet quality that was engaging and
a pleasure for audiences. All that was lost when
she was murdered in the fall of 2006. But before
her untimely demise, she had completed work
on the delightful new comedy-drama
WAITRESS.

The titular character is Jenna (Keri Russell) who
dreams of escaping from her bad marriage to
Earl (Jeremy Sisto) and setting off to participate
in a pie-making contest. Jenna, you see, is a
natural at creating tantalizing and delicious pies
and quiches and she is appropriately working at
Joe's Pie Diner, owned by Old Joe (Andy
Griffith). As other people may day dream, Jenna
concocts recipes in her mind for various
creations. Things get complicated for Jenna
when, after a night of drunken sex with her
loutish spouse, she is pregnant.

Her condition leads to an oddball relationship
and eventual affair with the new, married
OB-GYN in town, Dr. Jim Pomatter (Nathan
Fillion). He and Russell have terrific chemistry
and their scenes together are sweet, touching
and even sexy.

Jenna struggles with the alien being growing in
her. She doesn't really want the baby but she
won't have an abortion. She's encouraged by her
co-workers, the wise Becky (Cheryl Hines) and
the ditsy Dawn (Shelly) both of whom are having
romantic adventures of their own in counterpoint
to Jenna's.

WAITRESS is set in a timeless place, it could
be unfolding in the 1950s or today which is one
of the film's strengths as well as one of its
weaknesses. There's no real grounding to the
story despite Shelly's best efforts as writer and
director. The movie plays well and there are
some funny moments. Ultimately, the film is
about a woman deciding what it is she wants.
For Jenna, that road is a bumpy one but she
eventually does find the pleasure and happiness
she has been seeking. (There's a
deus ex
machina
that is a bit predictable but which
works in the confines of the tale.)

As a director, Shelly has always shown a flair for
casting and this film is no different. Keri Russell
is terrific as the pie-making mother-to-be. Fillion
is perfect as her foil, a man who turns to jelly in
her presence -- and really, who wouldn't? Hines
makes the most of her wisecracking waitress
and Shelly is heartbreakingly splendid as the
insecure one who finds unlikely love. Griffith
adds a touch of vinegar as the grouchy diner
owner who recognizes Jenna's special qualities.
The only real sour note is Sisto's turn as Earl, a
character that is more of a plot device than
flesh and blood. The actor tries to imbue the
part with something but he's stymied by the
character's conception and role in the script.

Even with its flaws,
WAITRESS is a fitting
tribute to the quirky independent spirit that
Shelly brought to so many projects. It also hints
at what might have been and that makes it all
the more heartbreaking. Taken on its merits,
though, it is a charming romantic comedy that
makes for a great date flick. Like the pies that
its heroine creates, the film is savory and tasty,
and leaves you sated yet wanting more.


Rating:                B
MPAA Rating:    PG-13 for sexual content,
                             language and
                             thematic elements
Running time:    104 mins.




Viewed at the Dolby 88 Screening Room
Adrienne Shelly as Dawn in
WAITRESS

Photo: Alan Markfield

™ and © 2007 TCFFC. All Rights Reserved.