REVIEW: Waitress [2007]

“I’m happy enough”

I’m not sure whether my wanting to see Waitress was due to its off-kilter humor, shown via its trailer, or because of the horrible tragedy surrounding writer/director/supporting actress Adrienne Shelly. Her murder definitely overshadows the dreamlike comedy she has left behind as her final foray in Hollywood. This is a tale of a poor girl dragging through life, desperately looking for a way out. As far as style goes, I can only think of Edward Scissorhands as having the same hyper-real environment filled with quirky characters and fantastical sequences grounded in reality. There is a definite fairytale quality at work here and, if anything, that lightheartedness helps you enjoy what is on screen for what it is and not for being Shelly’s final time in theatres.

Keri Russell plays our lead role—a pie making genius whom is married to an emotionally abusive husband (if not physically) and spends time with her two older friends from the diner she is employed at. One fateful day brings her the news that she is pregnant, despite only making love to her husband once in the past six weeks. She despises the child for what it stands for—a broken marriage and a bond to keep her from running away for good. Needing to make sure the child is healthy, she goes to the doctor, only to find a new resident physician. What starts as awkward flirting soon escalates into an affair and Russell’s character finally sees some happiness at the end of her dark tunnel.

The story is ultimately a simple one, yet it is told intelligently and with many eccentricities to keep a viewer’s attention. Each change in emotion for Russell is soon followed by a comical interlude of a newly invented pie to help ease the tension. All the characters have a bit of country-bumpkin in them and their exchanges throughout are laced with a naïve seriousness to every single word uttered. Their inability to take what is said with a grain of salt just makes it funnier for the audience to laugh at the reactions to seemingly innocuous dialogue. Credit for this must go to Shelly for creating an environment on set for all the actors to feel comfortable enough to really believe in and encompass themselves with their roles.

Russell is magnificent, and that says something because besides Mission: Impossible III, I can’t even think of something else I have seen her in. She allows for all emotions to come out and never goes too far into camp or over-the-top flamboyancy. Shelly herself is perfect as the friend with low self-esteem and not so quick intelligence. The mousy façade and little girl smile seemed misplaced at first, but as the film continues on it becomes exactly what her character is. Jeremy Sisto gives a nice turn as the bad boyfriend, conveying the misplaced aggression as well as the insecurity and longing for love that manifests it. On the other hand, Nathan Fillion truly shines as the knight in shining armor doctor. His nervousness and awkward mannerisms show his feelings towards our lead. Both his and her smiles are infectious when they are together; the chemistry is effective to portray the bond they create, as well as the mirrored relationship to Russell and Sisto. Last, but not least, is Andy Griffith bringing the heart and soul to the film. His crotchety old man, hiding his real feelings inside, helps lead our heroine onto a path of happiness without regret. Their moments together bring a smile to your face.

Although there was a lot to enjoy about the movie, the acting and humor especially, the film is not without many flaws. I am not quite sure on the timeline, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Shelly had been killed before the final cut was edited. There is some strange pacing at times, grinding the action to unnecessary halts before going forward again, as well as awkward cuts. Whether it be the out of place quick cut to Sisto at the beginning or the abrupt transition from one scene to that of a wedding towards the end, the film seems a tad hacked up at times. Its moments of creativity are also somewhat out of place, if only because there are so few of them. The circular panning around a romantic embrace is utilized twice and an interesting bit of blurring to accentuate Russell in an end scene once. While fascinating techniques, their innovativeness is almost too risqué for what we have been witnessing.

It is a shame that a review for Waitress must be weighed down with the tragedy surrounding it. There is a very good film hidden here, that may have shown through with a bit more editing and tightening. Had Shelly gone on, she might have rectified some problems after screenings and feedback. Instead we are given a very heartfelt story that shows how close to her it was. The film displays the promise of a filmmaker just hitting her prime; she could only have improved upon the talent she so obviously had. Just like the Tim Burton film I compared it to in tone at the start, this film ends bittersweetly yet realistically, (I applaud the fact that the fairytale happily-ever-after ending didn’t seep in completely), but after everything there is a sense of hope and happiness that was missing in our lead’s life at the start.

Waitress 6/10 | ★ ★ ½

photography:
[1] Keri Russell floats on cloud nine as Cheryl Hines and Lew Temple look on. Photo Credit: Alan Markfield
[2] Nathan Fillion tells Keri Russell of his fond memories. Photo Credit: Alan Markfield

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