Wednesday, 8 August 2007

Waitress - Review by Joseph Wren

Director: Adrienne Shelly
Screenwriter: Adrienne Shelly
Running Time: 107 mins
Certificate: 12A
Released: 10th August

This may be the first film in which the narrative is strung along by desserts - “I Don’t Want Earl’s Baby Pie,” “I Hate My Husband Pie,” “I Can’t Have No Affair Because It’s Wrong And I Don’t Want Earl To Kill Me Pie” are just a few of the things cooking in the mind of small town waitress Jenna (Kerri Russell). Reluctantly pregnant by her violently selfish husband Earl (Jeremy Sisto), Jenna plots her escape to a pie baking competition, but instead starts an affair with her new gynaecologist, Dr. Pomatter (Nathan Fillion).

Life is complicated for Jenna, as it is for the rest of the staff at Joe’s Diner. Sassy Becky (Cheryl Hines) has an invalid husband at home, and mousy Dawn (Adrienne Shelly) suffers from loneliness. Such is life, and Waitress struts the line between comedy and conflict in contemporary American womanhood. Fillion and Russell (who is outstanding in the lead role) share delicious chemistry, getting sympathetic laughs during those awkward moments when the two married people connect when it’s not really allowed, and are clearly having impure thoughts about each other racing through their minds. Pastel uniform-sporting waitresses Shelly and Hines, along with bowtie enthusiast/diner owner Joe (Andy Griffith) flesh out the folksy Americana setting. When she’s not contemplating her affair with the good doctor or dreaming up new confections, Jenna is writing letters to her unborn child. They start out slightly bitter, but become increasingly nuanced and intimate, building to an unexpected emotional climax that is not at all patronizing or formulaic, which elevates Waitress to a profoundly personal cinematic experience.
This is the kind of filmmaking that is seriously lacking in cinema today – a human story that is funny, dramatic, attractive, and heartfelt, with a feminist sensibility. Tragically, filmmaker Adrienne Shelly was senselessly murdered in her New York office this past November. Having directed two previous films and starring in a slew of respected offbeat indies (most notably Hal Hartley’s Trust and The Unbelievable Truth), Waitress was her masterpiece, and without doubt would have vaulted her into the too-small circle of highly regarded female filmmakers. Infidelity, abuse, and apathetic pregnancy are thematic ingredients more likely associated with the serious films of Bergman, and are often mishandled by lesser filmmakers, but, like the very best films of Woody Allen, Adrienne Shelly used inner and overt human conflict to weave together what is a genuinely affective, and very special romantic comedy.

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