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2006 films


(a review by Tom Condon, OP (St. Martin)

Waitress opens with a wonderful sequence of pie-making:  we see hands carefully shaping the crust.  Next the luscious fillings are poured into the shells.  That’s certainly a great way to start the film, leaving the audience hungry for what’s to come. 

Pies are not just incidental to the plot of this smart new comedy.  Pies are the only thing that Jenna (Keri Russell), the main character, feels that she can do right.  Her mother taught her how to make pies lovingly, and years later, she continues to elicit raves for her creations.  “The best pie I ever ate!” 

Even though Jenna’s pies are outstanding, the rest of her life is in shambles.  As the film opens, Jenna finds out that she is pregnant.  Jenna is not happy about the pregnancy.  Her husband, the abusive, self-centered Earl, has no redeeming features.  He treats Jenna like a child, and appreciates her only for what she can do for him.  Jenna is secretly saving money to leave Earl, and go to another town where she hopes to enter a pie-baking contest.

Jenna’s workplace will remind many of the classic TV series, AliceJenna’s fellow waitresses at Joe’s Diner are the wise-cracking Becky and the not-too-smart Dawn.  They are the only ones in whom Jenna can confide. Also at the diner is Cal the short order cook.   In addition, Old Joe (Andy Griffith), the owner, frequently comes in to sample Jenna’s pies.  Jenna is the only waitress who can deal with Old Joe.  Not unlike Cal, Joe also ends up having his redeeming qualities.

Jenna’s doctor, Dr. Pomatter, is a handsome newcomer.  In her first appointments, Jenna is not impressed by his awkward manner.  But, before long, the two become involved in a relationship.  Jenna does not want the relationship, but is attracted to the doctor as much as she is repelled by Earl.

Waitress is a comedy dealing with serious issues:  an unwanted pregnancy, adultery, and spousal abuse.  Writer-director Adrienne Shelly (who also plays Dawn) does an excellent job balancing the humor with the drama.  She never makes light of the seriousness of Jenna’s predicament.  Yet, Ms. Shelly also is quick to find the humor as well.  As with the best comedies, the humor is character-driven.  Nothing comes across as forced or phony. 

Ms. Shelly also has affection for her characters.  For a comedy, there is surprising depth in every character.  There is hope for redemption in every character, with the probable exception of Earl, hopelessly trapped in his own narcissism.

I couldn’t help feeling an ironic poignancy about Waitress.  Last November, before opening to critical acclaim and a successful run, Ms. Shelly was murdered.  The one who saw the humor and humanity in all her characters and even wished no harm to touch Earl, was herself a victim of violence.  There is a real tragedy in this situation.  I hope Ms. Shelly will be remembered for this warm, funny, life-affirming film in with a happy ending in which redemption is offered to all.

Tom Condon, OP

The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting classification is A-III -- adults. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 -- parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.

As with the best comedies, the humor is character-driven.  Nothing comes across as forced or phony. 

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