Baking can be methodical, measured and timely, an easy distraction from the doldrums of everyday life. For Jenna (Keri Russell) creating a new pie provides a sense of calm and catharsis that’s missing in her personal life. The love and sense of fun she’s never felt for her own husband is redirected into her work, the one aspect she seems to have any control over.
Writer and director Adrienne Shelly creates a bittersweet screwball comedy, with equal measures of love and loneliness. It’s entirely familiar but never trite or derivative, illustrating how far Shelly could have developed were it not for her murder just before the film’s opening at Sundance.
When I say that this is familiar, it’s because the roadside diner and pie shop in which Russell’s Jenna inhabits could easily house any sitcom cast, with it’s curmudgeon owner (played to perfection by Andy Griffith), bitter manager and unusual visitors. The other waitresses, loveless and lonely Dawn (Shelly again) and Becky (Cheryl Hines reveling in not having to be the straight man to Larry David for once) provide warmth and support, yet would never take Earl (Jeremy Sisto), Jenna’s husband and propagator of her woes. When Jenna discovers that she’s pregnant, despite abortion never being an option for her personally, she’s terrified of telling him: concerns that are certainly justified as Earl’s only concern upon finding out is whether or not she’ll still love him more than the baby (ironic considering it’s the only thing hampering her escape). Inadvertadly, she begins an affair with her obstetrician (Nathan Fillion), a twitchy and awkward man that immediately sows confusion within Jenna’s world.
The honesty and supreme lack of ceremony and apology associated with the affair is not only a testament to both Russell and Fillion’s likability but indicative of the movie as a whole. The mix of screwball and sentiment is never completely outside of what is reasonable, toeing the line on plausibility; the hyperbolized Americana evident throughout where perseverance is admired is often slightly ridiculous but never incredulous. Perhaps the only letdown is Griffith who acts as a Deus Ex Machina, allowing for a clean resolution that perhaps could have been handled by Jenna herself rather than through an external force, meaning that the changes brought about aren’t best realised.
Infused with warm life from the beginning, ‘Waitress’ is a fitting end to the promising writer, director and actress whose life was cut tragically short and is capable of making us feel good where it shouldn’t necessarily do so.