A Slice of Joy

waitress25.jpgBig summer blockbusters not your thing? Disappointed over and over again by sequels that fail to deliver? Forget the latest installment of Shrek or Spiderman and go see Waitress instead. This delightful little movie will no doubt be the surprise hit of the summer season and should end up being one of the better films of the year.

Adrienne Shelley (who was tragically murdered before her film ever made it to theaters) directs this film about a young waitress, Jenna Hunterson (Kerri Russell) who makes pies of “Biblical” goodness. Unfortunately, this aspiring pie champion is locked in an emotionally and physically abusive marriage to Earl (played quite despicably by Jeremy Sisto). Jenna’s situation worsens when she discovers that she has gotten pregnant “the night Earl got me drunk.” She wants nothing to do with this pregnancy or this child; however, she refuses to have an abortion. Jenna soon develops an affair with her attractive new OB-GYN, Dr. Pomatter (Nathan Fillion). The movie largely centers on Jenna’s attempts to leave a destructive husband while trying to balance her affair with Dr. Pomatter, a potential avenue out of this oppressive marriage.

Waitress’s strengths lie in a wonderful script greatly enhanced by some outstanding performances by everyone involved. Thankfully, all of the actors nail their southern accents, a rarity in most contemporary films set in the South. Adrienne Shelley and Cheryl Hines play Jenna’s co-waitresses, Dawn and Becky. In what should be an Oscar-nominated performance for supporting actor, Andy Griffith plays Old Joe, the owner of several business in town including the pie shop where Jenna works. On a side note, there seems to be a trend of old male actors playing randy old characters these days from Alan Arkin in Little Miss Sunshine to Peter O’Toole in Venus and here with Griffith whose lines include, “I made sweet love to [that woman] all through the summer….”

Waitress is not a movie for the guys, and it does not place marriage on a pedestal…two things for which I am extremely thankful, even as a happily married man. What is there to affirm in Jenna and Earl’s marriage? Anyone that would condemn Jenna for her affair with Dr. Pomatter or any religious or social system that would further imprison her in that oppressive marriage should quite simply be damned. Old Joe encourages Jenna to make the right choice and to start fresh, and even in her affair with the good doctor and the conclusion of the film (which I will not give away here), she does.

On the other hand, though Earl is despicable, we cannot only see him as “a selfish, juvenile jerk whose piggish, controlling behavior makes everyone wonder how lovely, sweet Jenna ever got near him,” like Teresa Bundasi does in her review of the film for the Chicago Sun-Times. Jenna makes a passing comment that Earl was not always so bad, that he had changed after their marriage. Moreover, Earl clearly has some psychological and emotional issues that beg further analysis and medical attention…away from this marriage of course.

In the vein of Babette’s Feast or Chocolat, Waitress yet again shows the spirituality of good food and cooking.  Though the film could have explored this a bit more, it is evident that baking is therapeutic for Jenna and that her pies are nothing short of a blessing to those who eat them.

Waitress is simply a wonderful film in which it is clearly evident that everyone took pride in being a part of it. In the midst of all the action filled bonanzas this summer, we have in Waitress a life-affirming film that stands in stark contrast to the tragic ending to Shelley’s life that preceded her film’s release. Though it suffers from a fifteen-minute lag, and some viewers might question Jenna’s liberation and the implication of motherhood in bringing it about, it is hard not to walk away from this film with a great sense of joy.