Images via Collider.com
Waitress isn't all sweet cherry pie. Adrienne Shelly's 2007 Sundance hit may have been marketed as 'this year's most delicious romantic comedy', but there's a distinctly bittersweet aftertaste. Shelly's screenplay navigates loneliness, unwanted pregnancy, adultery and domestic violence (couched as a loveless marriage). The film is also profoundly impacted by the tragic death of Shelly herself; she was murdered two months before the film premiered at Sundance.
Now imbued with a particular poignancy, Waitress is a testament to Shelly's writing and direction that she makes the most of such challenging ingredients to create a warm and uplifting film. Keri Russell is endearing as pie prodigy Jenna Hunterson; locked in an unhappy marriage, she escapes into her imagination and dreams up delicious recipes that represent everything she can't express: Pregnant Miserable Self Pitying Pie...lumpy oatmeal with fruitcake mashed in. Flambé of course.
Personally, I didn't get much from the romance between Jenna and the dreamy Dr. Pomatter (played by my favourite Nathan Fillion). I don't think Fillion was given enough to do with the character and the "I once had a crush on a girl who worked in a pie shop" backstory even came across a little creepy. Plus, I don't really dig adultery. That said, I ate up their awkward banter and think the relationship worked well as a vehicle for Jenna's reawakening.
The film, I believe, hits its stride in the more serious scenes. Rather than creating a one-dimensional overbearing husband role for easy laughs, Earl is given some depth and his manifest insecurity is portrayed remarkably well by Jeremy Sisto. This depth also brings more weight to bear on the representation of Jenna and Earl's marriage, which is emotionally and at times physically abusive. Shelly doesn't shy away from this, which is one of the reasons filmgoers looking for a saccharine rom-com will go away disappointed.
Similarly, Jenna's ambivalence about her pregnancy is deftly handled. An interview with Fillion in the dvd extras reveals this to be an autobiographical aspect of Shelly's film. Motherhood is so often shown in terms of breathless excitement, so I credit Shelly for revealing the reluctance and doubt that are no doubt part of pregnancy as well.
My favourite part of the film though, is this voiceover:
Dear Baby, I hope someday somebody wants to hold you for 20 minutes straight and that's all they do. They don't pull away. They don't look at your face. They don't try to kiss you. All they do is wrap you in their arms and hold on tight, without an ounce of selfishness in it.
I think this is the true heart of the film, more than the romance or the comedy. Waitress may have its layer of whipped cream, but it's really quite a contemplative look at a woman's life of quiet desperation.