Somewhere, someone is making a pie that is all their own. They have been to the grocery store; they have chosen the best ingredients. They have a recipe in their head that might have once been their mother’s or might have come to them while they waited for the bus. And though there may be situations or circumstances in their lives that may be keeping them from the happiness they deserve, for the time it will take to prepare their warm treat, they will be focused on the act of creation itself. That same kind of care is baked into writer/director Adrienne Shelley’s Sundance darling, “Waitress”. Like the film’s heroine, Jenna (Keri Russell) who bakes to escape from her dreary, hopeless life, Shelley ensures that “Waitress” is the result of blending all the right ingredients, not over baking and gently sifting in just the right amount of love whenever necessary.
If “Waitress” were itself a pie, it would taste like the perfect combination of different flavours coming to life on your tongue one after the other instead of all at once. It would be rich, not overly sweet. Realism gives this romantic comedy its affluence. Jenna plays a waitress who works thankless hours at a pie shop outside of town. She is married to a controlling, abusive husband (played by a humanely needy Jeremy Sisto) and has just discovered that she is pregnant. She thought her life was going nowhere before but the baby news shut the oven door for good on whatever dreams she still held on to. Russell plays Jenna like a woman resigned to her fate. She is not necessarily unhappy in her day-to-day interactions; she merely does not believe that any good will come to her in her life. None has come thus far so why should she expect anything different from the future? She is not a pessimist but a pragmatist. While the dead-end career/deadbeat husband angle has been played out before, Shelley makes sure to avoid cliché with a sensitive script that allows for her characters to make sensible choices rather than typical ones that define the genre.
The relationship that is perhaps treated most delicately and also becomes the central relationship in the film is the one that forms between Jenna and her new gynecologist, Dr. Pomatter (Nathan Fillion). After an initially uncomfortable meeting, the two start an affair that finds Jenna following her pregnancy very closely with what seems like weekly visits to her doctor. Affairs are very tricky to sell on film as the romance has the extra challenge of overshadowing the innocent partners that are left at home and the undue hurt that is caused to them. In Jenna’s case, the woman has got it so rough; you want her to have this happiness. What value do the vows she made to her husband have when he essentially manipulated her into marrying him in the first place so that he would never be alone? Russell makes it boisterously enjoyable to watch Jenna realize that she can actually make choices that control her own destiny. They may not be ideal but they can bring smiles to her face again. And as for Dr. Pomatter and his involvement, Shelley wisely chooses not to show his wife until much later on or explain away why he is cheating. In the end, it isn’t his story and all that matters is that he’s there and he sees Jenna for the wondrous woman she is.
“Waitress” is easy to fall in love with. After all, isn’t there a little waitress in all of us? To varying degrees, we all wish that something about our lives had turned out differently. If we’re lucky there are elements that we are happy with but there is always going to be something we don’t feel we’ve explored to its fullest or opportunities we feel we’ve been cheated out of. Let this movie and its creation be a lesson to us all to enjoy the moments where we feel happy just making a pie, as those are the moments that matter and you never know what life has in mind for you next.
Before she could witness the critical success and audience reaction to her film, a construction worker killed writer/director Adrienne Shelley over a noise dispute in her building.
Review by Joseph Bélanger