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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

WAITRESS (2007) - Adrienne Shelly

Adrienne Shelly was an independent actress and sometime director before her murder in November 2006. At the time of her death, she was working on her final film, a comedy by the name of Waitress. Completed without the writer/director, Waitress went on to be a hit at Sundance and won over critics and audiences alike. It may be tempting to go easy on a film after such a tragedy befell it's creator, but then that would be doing the film an injustice. But Waitress nevertheless is a wonderful, warm film, so singing it's praises wont seem like a loss of credibility!

Waitress is about Jenna, a waitress at Joe's Diner. Apart from serving customers their food, Jenna is also a 'pie genius,' creating pies both sweet and savory that adorn Joe's menu. Married to an incredibly selfish and insecure man, Jenna discovers to her horror that she has fallen pregnant by her husband, something that screws up her plans to make a clean break. She wants to enter a pie making contest with a prize of $25,000, allowing her to make leave her husband forever. Her baby will trap her in her miserable life, and creates resentment in Jenna. After her life-long doctor retires, Jenna meets Dr. Pomatter, a charming but goofy man who develops an immediate attraction to Jenna. Jenna's dream seems to drift away as the baby inside her continues to grow.

Ya know, I'm not a huge fan of 'chick-flicks.' Over the years, the films I've seen of this kind have bored me to the point of sleep. I'm just being honest. And I think, if they're being honest here, most men would agree with me. However, I defy anyone who isn't won over by Shelly's incredibly charming film. It's not a perfect film by any means. The ending is a little saccharine, and sometimes the comedy does tend to get a little too like a sitcom. But these criticisms aside, Waitress is a great little character film.

Shelly's script mixes the comedy and drama in equal doses, never becoming a farce, but also refraining from becoming too dark when it comes to the drama. With quite a strong script, finding an actress to suitably embody Jenna could prove a problem. However, Keri Russell is fantastic as Jenna, carrying the film's more dramatic side, while also managing to be sweet and funny. She's surrounded by actors whose characters are a little more broad in terms of comedy (and is another minor weakness in the script), but it's Russell's performance which grounds the film. Nathan Fillion provides the love interest for Russell. There's something very likable about all Fillion's performances, and while his character isn't as tough as Mal Reynolds (Fillion's most famous role from TV's Firefly and 2005's Serenity), he still retains the charm of that character. It surely is only a matter of time before both actors are better known. Jeremy Sisto as Jenna's husband Earl puts in another creepy performance, something he's become known for, but Shelly refrains from making Earl too cliched an abusive hill-billy character.

It's rare that I enjoy a film of this kind. But Waitress is a disarmingly charming film. It's not perfect, but with a brilliant central performance and a genuinely funny script, there's plenty to like.



Marin Mandir said...

Yes, I heard about this film and the tragic death of Adrienne Shelly before it's premiere. Really sad. Haven't seen the film, but I'm glad you found it to be excellent.

Peter Slattery said...

Yeah, I was pleasantly surprised by it. Awful shame about Shelly though. She had a lot of potential, going on Waitress alone