- Rated PG-13
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All photos © Fox Searchlight
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
o say that Adrienne Shelly’s “Waitress” doesn’t represent something more than the average chick flick is an understatement. After all, the film’s big debut at Sundance earlier this year was overshadowed by the director’s untimely death, and though the cast and crew were all there to support the premiere, it’s hard to imagine that anyone had anything else on their mind other than paying tribute to their dear friend. Despite the somber attitude, however, the film wowed audiences as one of the more impressive entries at the festival. While “Waitress” probably won’t enjoy the same success as last year’s “Little Miss Sunshine,” it’s still a sweet film that is more than deserving of a little attention not directly tied to the tragedy.
Keri Russell stars as Jenna, a Southern-fried pie maker trapped in a loveless marriage to her abusive and jealous husband, Earl (Jeremy Sisto). Working days as a waitress at a local diner with friends Becky (Cheryl Hines) and Dawn (Shelly), Jenna often daydreams about one of two things – leaving her husband and making pies – but when she discovers that she’s pregnant, her future looks increasingly less promising. Determined to keep the baby (but only because it’s considered the right thing to do), Jenna goes to the doctor to find that her old OB/GYN has retired, leaving her in the clumsy but incredibly charming hands of Dr. Pomatter (Nathan Fillion). When sparks begin to fly between Jenna and the new doc, an unlikely affair is set in motion that may reopen the door to her escape from the small town.
The story itself isn’t very original, and in fact plays a lot like “The Good Girl” and every Lifetime made-for-TV movie featuring an abusive relationship, but it’s the film’s characters that help it to rise above all of the clichés. Russell’s Jenna isn’t just a helpless victim – she’s a brilliant pie maker who creates new recipes in her head and gives them names like I Hate My Husband Pie and Pregnant Miserable Self Pitying Loser Pie, all of which look absolutely delicious. The supporting characters are also given defining traits, like Sisto’s asshole husband, who he plays with a hint of desperation, or Fillion’s bumbling doctor, who gradually becomes more charming throughout the course of the film. Hines and Shelly also offer excellent support as Jenna’s well-meaning friends, while screen veteran Andy Griffith is a welcome addition as the diner’s owner and frequent customer.
At the end of the day, however, “Waitress” works best as a platform for Russell, and one that proves why she’s one of the industry’s premier up-and-coming talents. How the former “Mickey Mouse Club” star still hasn’t managed to break out is beyond me, but she’s had about as much luck as co-star Fillion, whose striking resemblance to Harrison Ford should have already made him a star. Still, the two performances are reason enough to check out the film. It runs a little longer than it needs to, but the final product is just like one of Jenna’s pies: light, sweet and with the smallest hint of tartness. It’s certainly not enough to warrant a second helping, but if nothing else, it serves as a worthy tribute to Shelly’s tragically short life.
Single-Disc DVD Review:
The single-disc release of “Waitress” isn’t quite as jam-packed with special features as it first appears, but thanks to a lively commentary track with star Keri Russell and producer Michael Roiff, it isn’t a complete washout either. The rest of the extras are a pretty hit-or-miss affair, with “This Is How We Made Waitress Pie” never quite amounting to an actual making-of featurette, and much of the behind-the-scenes material repeated throughout. Oh yeah, and while “The Pies Have It” might sound like the perfect time to disclose the recipes to some of those yummy desserts in the film, it’s nothing but a tease.