Monday, December 10, 2007

Waitress: Grade A

Waitress (2007)
Keri Russell, Nathan Fillion, Adrienne Shelly, Cheryl Hines, Jeremy Sisto, Andy Griffith. Writer-director: Adrienne Shelly.

I discovered Adrienne Shelly in Suddenly Manhattan (1996) which she wrote, directed, and starred in. It was a real charmer, and so is Waitress, a quirky romantic comedy. Keri Russell exudes charm out of every pore as an impoverished waitress working at a diner and tormented by an abusive husband (Sisto). Her dream is to save enough money to enter the state pie bake-off and win the big prize. She is a pie artist. She expresses herself by inventing pies with whimsical names and the camera shows them being prepared in drooling close-up. She wants to win the prize as a self-definitional statement because she senses, but can’t quite see that her miserable passivity is a social artifact, not her destiny. At work she shares her troubles with coworkers Shelly and Hines, and cranky customer/owner Griffith, all in wonderful performances, with warm, genuine, yet charmingly loopy interactions. The waitress’ passion flares and is reciprocated when a new doctor comes to town (Fillion), but he is also married. The story then is her journey of finding her physical, moral, and spiritual center. The film reminds me of Shirley Valentine (1989), also a theme of a woman trying to find her center, and of Little Miss Sunshine (2006), another lightweight, feel-good comedy. The sappy ending of Waitress was a big disappointment intellectually, but an appropriate whipped cream topping. The movie was finished right before Shelly was murdered in New York City, so I am generous toward it for sentimental reasons, but it is completely entertaining.

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