Friday, June 08, 2007

Movie Review: Waitress


In Brief: What's Good

  • Refreshingly funny.

  • Sharp, witty writing.

  • Good ensemble cast that includes Andy Griffith.

  • Excellent acting, especially a surprisingly stellar performance from Keri Russell

  • The always welcome Nathan Fillion (Firefly, Serenity, Drive) also turns in an excellent performance that's quite different from his previous roles.

  • The latter part of the movie contains one of the most genuinely & believably romantic scenes I've ever seen.

  • Nice use of pies as both a visual and thematic element that ties different parts of the movie together.

In Brief: What's Not So Good

  • Several subplots depend heavily on acts of adultery.

  • Jeremy Sisto's role as an abusive husband is so unpleasant & distasteful, you wonder how someone could have married him in the first place.

B+ Story
A Acting
B+ Directing
B Visuals

Waitress stars the surprisingly talented Keri Russell as Jenna, a southern waitress who works at Joe's Pie Diner where she also specializes in making a unique pie of the day, everyday. Jenna dreams of entering a pie contest so that she can afford to leave her physically and psychologically abusive husband Earl (Jeremy Sisto). Things get more complicated when Jenna discovers she's pregnant, the result of a rare night of drunkeness a few weeks prior in which she temporarily and uncharacterstically let her guard down against her husband.

Filling out a quirky and charming ensemble cast is the always impressive Nathan Fillion (Firefly, Serenity, Drive), Cheryl Hines, Jeremy Sisto (from the short-lived TV show Kidnapped), Eddie Jemsion (Ocean's 11/12/13), and the legendary and frighteningly shaky-handed Andy Griffith. I didn't realize this until I just looked at Wikipedia and IMDb, but Adrienne Shelly, the writer and director of the movie (who was murdered on 01 November 2006 before she could see her movie released), also played Dawn, the mousy waitress and friend of Keri Russel's character.

Nathan Fillion plays the town's brand new gynecologist, Dr. Jim Pomatter, who is in charge of looking after Jenna's pregnancy after the town's regular gynecologist goes into semi-retirement. Unlike his more manly roles on TV shows Firefly and Drive, Fillion plays Jim as slightly less confident and even a tiny bit bumbling.

Jenna and Dr. Pomatter gradually develop an attraction to each and other and eveuntually begin having an affair. This subplot provides the movie with a lot of romance and humor. Adultery is never a good thing, but you can almost justify Jenna's involvement in the affair because of how horrible her marriage is to abusive Earl. However, things are more complicated with Dr. Pomatter, and wondering whether he's justified in being with Jenna was always an uncomfortable question in the back of my mind.

There is one moment of genuine romance in the movie that is so well acted and so well directed, that you almost forget about the infidelity. I won't give away which scene it is, but surely you'll know what I'm talking about when you see it. It's not shot with alternating close-ups of two characters saying sappy things to each other, followed by a wide shot of the two people kissing as a pop song starts up on the soundtrack.

Instead, the camera is pulled back so you see the characters and the room they're in, and you feel more like you're there, invisible, invading these people's privacy. You see two people who are comfortable with other, who care for each other, who are gently affectionate with each other, and who say realistic things to each other as they share a nice moment, turning a mundane act into an oppotunity for comfort, peacefulness, and emotional initmacy. It's a moment when you *definitely* believe these two would be good for each other, even if being with each other wouldn't be good.

Despite being labeled a romantic comedy, Waitress also has a dark underbelly to it. Almost every scene with Jeremy Sisto's character is disturbing. Despite being verbally and physically abusive to Jenna, the movie makes it clear that he also deeply loves her. It's just a really messed up kind of love, a kind that's too self-motivated and smothering for anyone to appreciate. Adding to the disdain of the character is that there's at least one scene in the movie that *almost* makes you fell sorry for him, no matter how much you don't want to. At times you wish he'd get hit by bus; other times you feel that living a long life totally alone would be a more fitting punishment for pushing away someone great like Jenna.

On top of that, Jenna does not want her baby. She does not believe in aborting it, and she does conscienciously attend all her physicals and gynecological exams in order to take care of it. But, she also associates the baby with everything that is wrong with her marriage and her life. Throughout the movie, Jenna openly expresses some uncomfortably negative opinions about pregnancy and the baby itself.

One interesting aspect of the movie is how Jenna deals with her problems. She makes unique pies, but she does not work from recipes. She invents interesting pies in her head with plans to make them later. She associates certain ingredients with her current emotions. When she's happy, she may imagine a pie filled with chocolate or a bright fruit. When she's in despair, she may immagine filling a pie with meat or a dark fruit. When she's mad, she may imagine a flambéed pie.

Adding an extra layer of quirkiness to the movie is Andy Griffith as Joe, the cranky owner and patron of the pie diner named after him. Despite annoyingly detailed food orders and a generally fussy nature, Joe is basically a wise, caring old guy that befriends the troubled Jenna. Andy Griffith does an excellent job in the role. It is a bit distracting at times just how much Griffith's hands shake as he holds a newspaper in several scenes, but the sly smile and comforting voice of this legend makes his presence a welcome addition to the movie.

Waitress is a thoroughly witty and charming movie. It stands well on the strength of its script and performances. It would be easy for such a movie to take predictable turns and end on standard romantic comedy cliches, but the movie stays fresh even to the final moments.

This little independent film is probably in limited release in most markets. It's well worth seeing if you can find it and better than a lot of big budget summer movies out right now. And, if you're a guy, it's not quite as much of a chick flick as you might think.

Sad Facts from Internet Movie Database

Waitress filmmaker Adrienne Shelly's last film. Shelly was killed at the age of 40. Her husband found her hung by a bedsheet from a shower curtain rod in her Manhattan apartment. Originally, her death was considered a suicide, but a 19-year-old illegal immigrant later admitted to the killing.

Sad Facts from Wikipedia

Waitress's writer/director Adrienne Shelly was murdered before learning that the movie had been accepted into the 2007 Sundance Film Festival. Adrienne Shelly was also an actress and played the sweet, nerdy Dawn, another waitress at Joe's Pie Diner and one of the main character's two close friends.


J_Jammer said...
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Anonymous said...

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