Sunday, May 13, 2007


Yesterday I saw "Waitress" and it left me in tears, not because it's a touching film (though it is, at times) but because it is the first and last film written and directed by the late Adrienne Shelley, who was murdered last year by a workman in a neighboring apartment. I sat through all of the credits, past the copyright tags, just to see the "In loving memory of" words fill the screen. She also played one of the characters, the "Vera" in this (unintentional?) version of "Alice," the 70's sitcom based on the film "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore." In "Waitress," Cheryl Hines plays the "Flo" character (brassy and sexual) while Adrienne Shelley is the nerdy Vera-like "Dawn" and Keri Russell is the central heroine, Jenna. And of course there is a growly-manager cook who we know has a good heart underneath, much like "Alice's" Mel.

It also brought flashbacks of "The Good Girl," for once again we have a pretty young girl stuck in a small town and in an unsatisfying marriage, who finds herself pregnant. But in "The Good Girl," the husband was a well-meaning dullard, while here he is an emotionally-abusive, controlling lug played by Jeremy Sisto. And Jenna is much more likable than Jennifer Aniston's character, who seemed motivated as much by self-hatred as by boredom. Jenna has a dream: an accomplished pie-baker, she hopes to enter a pie contest that offers a tantalizing $25,000 prize. With that prize, of course, comes the financial means to leave her husband, her marriage, and her hometown.

First of all, I've never been to a pie diner that served all of its meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner) in a piecrust. I wish I could remember all of the varieties we hear about, but be assured they are not just blueberry or apple or even quiche. Jenna even serves her husband pie meals, sitting down one night for "spaghetti pie." Don't go to this movie hungry.

Beyond the pie, though, the film is funny and touching and smart. Jenna is no sentimental heroine; she refused to embrace motherhood even as she sees no option but to carry her unwanted child to term. She falls into an extramarital affair and then judges one of her waitress friends for doing something very similar. And yet I think this makes her more real, and her choices as the film ends more realistic.

Of course there is also Andy Griffith, older-looking than you'd think he should be, as the curmudgeonly diner owner who counts Jenna as his "only friend." His character and the related plot line are obvious from the start, but the dialogue between him and Keri Russell is well-written, so I forgave that I saw how and when it would play out.

I read something recently that credited Keri Russell with being one of the great beauties of her generation. I didn't understand that until I saw this movie. She is luminous, even when she's frowning at the husband she despises, and becomes only more so when she finally breaks into a full smile.

I don't recall that Jennifer Aniston ever smiled in "The Good Girl."


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