Starring: Keri Russell, Nathan Fillion, Cheryl Hines, Adrienne Shelly, Jeremy Sisto, Andy Griffith, Eddie Jemison, Lew Temple
Directed by: Adrienne Shelly
This is a movie full of elements that would normally instantly turn me off of it, including an affected indie-quirk presentation of simple small-town folk, sitcomesque presentations of relationships, a broad villain straight out of a Dixie Chicks song, and an overly emotional and somewhat contrived final act that wraps things up a little too cutely. Strangely enough, while these flaws certainly do bring the movie down in my estimation, it still manages to rise above them to become a fairly charming little movie that’s easier to like than loathe.
Much of the credit for that goes to star Keri Russell, who plays Jenna, a waitress in a small-town pie shop with a flair for creating delectable pies with annoyingly cloy names (“Bad Baby Pie”, “I Hate My Husband Pie”) that reflect her mood and made me not want to see the movie when they were used in the trailer for it. Russell is able to portray the world-weary Jenna without descending into condescension, allowing the audience to sympathise and truly connect with the character. So when she meets the cute new doctor in town, Dr. Pomatter (Nathan Fillion), about her pregnancy from her boorish husband Earl (Jeremy Sisto), we’re fully in Jenna’s corner, and accept the genuine chemistry between Russell and Fillion.
Russell manages to exude vulnerability beneath her weariness, without seeming overly frail. Her journey of self-determination to take action in her life is the best reason to see the movie. Well, either that or the truly delectable food porn on screen. It’s what allows the movie to rise above the sitcom B-plots of fellow waitresses Becky (Cheryl Hines) and Dawn (Adrienne Shelly) and the convenient ending involving Andy Griffith‘s lovably gruff Old Joe.
Ultimately, Waitress is a romantic comedy that uses some of the shorthand of the genre to hit the proper notes, but manages to rise above the standard offerings of the genre due to the performance of Russell, the support of Fillion and Griffith, and some legitimate wit and warmth in Adrienne Shelly’s script. It’s an above average little film that should deliver what audiences are looking for from it, but not quite as good as it may have appeared to reviewers taking it in as counter-programming to the blockbuster sequels of the summer, or for those (understandably) using it to eulogise the director.