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Waitress

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Mmm…Keri Russell plays a pie genius in Waitress.

“Waitress” is an awkwardly charming little movie. It banks on Southern hospitality and female bonding like “Fried Green Tomatoes” or “Steel Magnolias,” and yet, despite the presence of an abusive husband and an unwanted baby, seems to lack the melancholy subtext of those movies. It exists in a very small, rather harmless little universe, where the nearest town is a pie contest away and everybody minds everybody else’s business, but nobody interferes.

Director/writer Adrienne Shelly surrounds herself with a long list of TV actors, from the venerable Andy Griffith on through “Felicity’s” Keri Russell, “Firefly’s” Nathan Fillion, “Six Feet Under’s” Jeremy Sisto (here, as there, mentally ill and possibly dangerous,) and “Curb Your Enthusiasm’s” Cheryl Hines, and that guy from the beer commercials (Mr. Yes I Am.) “Waitress,” perhaps unintentionally, makes a statement about what made-for-TV movies could be, if they tried.

It’s not a bad little movie, and in fact, it’s better than a lot of big movies. Keri Russell plays Jenna, who works in a pie shop and invents a new pie every day. The pies are by far the most entertaining and humorous part of the movie – not only do they look delicious, they come out with names like I Hate My Husband Pie (bittersweet chocolate made into a pudding and drowned in caramel) and Earl Murders Me Because I’m Having an Affair pie (blackberries and raspberries smushed into a chocolate crust.)

As you can probably tell from those pie titles, Jenna hates her husband and is having an affair. She’s also having a baby she doesn’t want, because she hates her husband. She’s having an affair because she’s having a baby; the affair is with her OB/GYN. This is the plot. It’s not substantial, but it doesn’t matter. Nobody’s going to kill anybody, and there’s no secret abortion. What we have instead are a small crowd of southern characters, all people Jenna loves, in one sense or another, and all full of advice but not offering any real help.

[YouTube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-jhK6WqxuPM]

There’s Joe (Andy Griffith), the owner of the pie shop. He’s an old grump with a heart of gold, and Jenna’s the only waitress patient enough to serve him at his own restaurant. And Dawn (Adrienne Shelly), who looks a mess but dresses up nice for five minute dates with Ogie (Eddie Jemison, the beer commercial guy.) She only goes on five minute dates because it usually only takes five minutes for her to know this date was a big mistake. The other waitresses call Ogie an annoying elf, but he wins Dawn’s heart with improvised poems and serious perseverance. Becky (Cheryl Hines,) the other waitress, has an invalid husband at home and a thing for the fry cook (Lew Temple.) Dr. Pomatter (Nathan Fillion,) Jenna’s OB-GYN and flame, is a city boy out of his element. He can’t stop putting his foot in his mouth. (“How pregnant am I?” Jenna asks him. “Very pregnant,” he answers. “There’s really only one degree of pregnancy, so to speak.”) And there is Jenna’s husband, Earl (Jeremy Sisto,) who definitely brings to mind a certain Dixie Chicks song. He is childishly self-centered and potentially abusive, but not exactly the demon-husband you might expect in a role like this.

Adrienne Shelly has a lot of affection for her characters and the result is that “Waitress” rarely comes off as cheesy or cloying. It’s a long way from realism, but stops well short of ridiculous. If you could ever find this pie shop, it might be a place you’d like to spend some time, getting to know the people, watching as nothing happens in their lives. You might wonder where Jenna’s parents are, or why nobody encourages her to leave her deadbeat husband, or if there’s any law enforcement in this town. But kind of like certain pies, you might find it’s better not to ask questions. Another bite’s a better idea.

Recommended

  • if you like Fannie Flagg novels;
  • for “Girls Night Out” viewing;
  • if you’re a big fan of pie.

Not Recommended

  • if you’re feeling cynical or sarcastic. Even a little bit.
  • if you’re on a diet

Footnote: “Waitress” is undoubtedly Adrienne Shelley’s best film, and sadly, her final one. Shelley was murdered in her studio before the film was released. And while I didn’t love “Waitress,” it was different enough from typical Hollywood fare to make me wonder what she might’ve done next. She had talent, and movie lovers everywhere feel her loss.

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  1. This is totally a movie spoiler but I have to say I just watched Waitress and I love the ending. As a mama, I love that the minute she looks into her baby’s eyes she find the strength and guts to do what she’s been too afraid to do. I think it’s such a beautiful and accurate picture of parenthood.

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