Director: Adrienne Shelly

While it is impossible to view the final film of the tragically murdered forty year old actress turned writer/director Adrienne Shelly without being haunted by the shocking events of her abrupt end, her bittersweet film Waitress is one of the most enjoyable movies I’ve seen so far this year. Although it’s a beautiful way to end her career, it is quite upsetting to realize that she was unable to see its wonderful critical and audience reaction because she was killed shortly after its acceptance to Sundance.

Keri Russell puts Felicity behind her in a big way and proves to be the most talented former Disney Channel star with her excellent turn as Jenna, a young waitress and naturally gifted pie inventor at a diner in the heart of the American south. After a regrettable alcohol induced night with her controlling and abusive husband Earl (played to menacing perfection by Jeremy Sisto), Jenna finds herself as unhappily pregnant as she is in her marital relationship.

In the house of Earl, Jenna is relegated to hiding money throughout her home and without a car of her own to aid in her liberation, she dreams of creating the perfect pie and entering a contest that would win her enough money to escape her homebound prison. She practices on a daily basis by sublimating her dissatisfaction with her station in life by concocting ingenious recipes with titles such as I Hate My Husband Pie.

Her pies get more elaborate as her life gets increasingly complicated when she develops an attraction to the new arrival in her community, her married gynecologist Dr. Pomatter (Nathan Fillion) who not only reciprocates the crush but wants to run away with his patient. However Jenna is an unlikely feminist character in not wanting to be saved and Shelly is smart enough as a director to avoid the knight in shining armor cliché.

In most critical responses the film has been referred to in ways that pay homage to the delicious creations crafted with love in the kitchen at Old Joe’s Diner by Jenna (with Joe being played by Andy Griffith relishing his turn as a curmudgeon) and while it’s hard to avoid such terminology as the food in the film is enough to make one crave pie, I was mostly struck by the performance of not only Russell as a fiercely determined young woman overwhelmed by her ability to feel love for a new man and later a child she didn’t want, but also the deft comedic portrayals by her fellow waitresses Becky (Curb Your Enthusiasm’s Cheryl Hines) and Dawn (Adrienne Shelly).

The film makes one realize just how easy it is to overlook the people serving us food at restaurants—we can’t forget that there are lives behind that practiced smile and that sometimes the faces serving us are hiding pain dressed up in fancy uniforms with entrees that are guaranteed to drive us to distraction without guessing the depths of the people we encounter on a daily basis.

While it’s not as heavy as I just made it sound and the film is a heartbreaking darkly funny crowd-pleaser in the same mode as another Fox Searchlight offering, Little Miss Sunshine, there’s something noble to be said for these quirky slice-of-life pictures that strive to unite us rather than divide by reminding us all that no matter what our station, we all have engrossing stories to behold. I’d hope for an Oscar nomination for Russell as it’s one of the most difficult and layered roles a young woman has encountered thus far in 2007 but its early calendar release date is probably destined for it to be overlooked by the Academy—however, don’t let it escape you.

From Waitress

“Short Skirt/Long Jacket” by Cake
Cake - Comfort Eagle - Short Skirt/Long Jacket