A sweet-as-pie comedy that just happens to have a sprinkle of romance.

James Plath's picture

At Joe's Pie Diner, you can get just about any kind of pie--homemade delectables like "I Hate My Husband Pie," "I Don't Want Earl's Baby Pie," "Naughty Pumpkin Pie," and "Earl Murders Me Because I'm Having an Affair Pie."

If the pies weren't renamed for customers to make them a little less indicative of their waitress-creator's life ("Earl's Baby Pie" becomes "Bad Baby Pie," for example), people wouldn't even have to gossip. It's all right here: How Jenna (Keri Russell, TV's "Felicity") feels trapped in a loveless marriage to a controlling, self-centered, and subtly abusive husband named Earl (Jeremy Sisto), and how she resents him getting her drunk so he could have sex with her instead of simply begging ("Please, please, please, please . . . .") the way he does another time, and now she's pregnant and not wanting to be a wife much less a mother. And then there's this doctor who's taking over for the female OB/GYN she had, who's married, but that doesn't stop the sparks from flying . . . .

Like the woman in "Like Water for Chocolate," Jenna's creations are a direct reflection of the way she's feeling, and like a true artist, she works with intuitive passion and near-reckless abandon. Given how controlling her husband Earl is--he won't let her drive anywhere by herself, won't let her enter a big pie-baking contest, won't let her have money (even the green she pulls in)--those pies become her only outlet and expression of selfhood.

They also keep Joe's Pie Diner in business, though crusty owner Old Joe (Andy Griffith) and chief cook and bottle washer Cal (Lew Temple) don't exactly shower her with praise. Anyone who's seen "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore" or the TV version, "Alice," will recognize a similar structure. Besides the grumpy boss there are three principle waitresses: the down-to-earth one (Alice--or in this case, Jenna), the ditzy one (Vera--
Dawn, here, played by writer-director Adrienne Shelly), and the feisty joke-cracker (Flo-called Becky and played by "Curb Your Enthusiasm" star Cheryl Hines). Together, they're as interesting to watch as any of the female-bonding movies that are set in food emporiums, films like "Fried Green Tomatoes" or "Mystic Pizza."

In his theatrical review, DVD Town's Jason P. Vargo pronounced it one of the freshest films of the summer, and it certainly is an entertaining tease--part romantic comedy and part quirky rural comedy, with, of course, plenty of allusions and similarities to those "magic of food" films.

Russell turns in a regular "Junebug" performance, nailing the blended naiveté and moxy of her character and never slipping out of that accent or mindset. Under Shelly's capable direction, Russell and the others also steer clear of sentimentality and somehow avoid serving up cheese pie. It's also refreshing to see an onscreen abusive relationship where the guy isn't a "hitter." A film like this may just let women know that there's something wrong when a man tries to be as controlling as Earl, and that's it's just as abusive as if he'd smacked her from wall to wall.

As Jenna moves forward with her mutual fascination with the skittish Dr. Pomatter (played with a subtle touch of Don Knotts by Nathan Fillion), and as she moves closer to her baby's due date, things begin to clarify for her when she starts writing in a journal to her unborn daughter. We watch, captivated, as she decides what to do about her affair and her less-than-satisfying marriage, with a sideplot involving Dawn and another character that seems straight out of Mayberry (Ogie, played by Eddie Jemison) adding laughs and perspective.

"Waitress" is presented in 1.85:1 widescreen and looks pretty good for a film that had one of the lowest budgets of any film in recent memory (just $2 million!). Shot primarily at and around The Halfway House Café in Saugus, California, the film has only the slightest grain and rich colors.

The featured audio is English Dolby Digital 5.1, with a Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround option and subtitles in English (CC), Spanish, and French. It's a decent soundtrack that has little-to-no distortion and nice, natural-sounding dialogue.

The commentary by Russell and producer Michael Roiff is worth listening to, but the rest of the features are pretty-much surface treatments. We get a "This is How We Made Waitress Pie" making-of featurette that feels like a pre-publicity promo, a brief "Written and Directed by Adrienne Shelly: A Memorial" tribute, short features on Russell as Jenna and those creative pies, and a Fox Movie Channel piece on "In Character with Keri Russell, Cheryl Hines, and Nathan Fillion." Decent bonus features, but pretty average.

Bottom Line:
"Waitress" is a sweet-as-pie comedy that just happens to have a sprinkle of romance. Russell, who began her show-biz career as one of the New Mouseketeers, really
sells the wholesomeness and small-town flavor. But the film itself is bittersweet, largely because we can't help but feel saddened that Shelly, who was murdered before her "baby" was released, won't be making any more little bundles of joy like this. There's an insert inside the keep-case telling about The Adrienne Shelly Foundation, in case you're inclined to donate.


Film Value