Directed by Adrienne Shelly
Starring: Keri Russell, Nathan Fillion, Cheryl Hines, Adrienne Shelly, Jeremy Sisto, Andy Griffith, Eddie Jemison, Lew Temple
Grade: D -
If only life was as easy as pie. This statement, the tagline for Waitress, a comedy about the life of Jenna, a pregnant and thoroughly miserable waitress in America's deep South, may at first appear apt, but fatefully relinquishes all importance in the hours that follow.
All of the buzz about this film has been regarding Adrienne Shelly, the diector, writer and supporting player of the film, who was tragically shot dead just months ago. The nature of her character in the film, the ditzy but very endearing waitress Dawn, will certainly contribute to the overall sadness of the event, and to Shelly's credit, she plays the character well. Of the three tasks she undertakes however, (acting, directing, and writing) her success is sadly confined to her comic turn.
It's clear from the outset that Shelly intends to use the naivety and idiocy of her characters to get laughs, the beginning sequence seeing the three waitresses huddled around Jenna's pregnancy test, speculating about the outcome and possible re-percussions in a giddily frantic childish nature. It immediately imprints a fluffy tone to the film, and a galloping comic pace that's initially entertaining. Once Jenna is revealed pregnant she is devastated, and immediately resents the baby's presence, baking a 'Bad Baby Pie' to reflect her negative mood. Strangely though, Jenna is given few actual concerns about the pregnancy, and I'm at a loss to remember a time when she details why a baby would be so bad. The film gives her only one legitimate concern in her aggressive and possessive husband Earl, who is never quite convincing enough.
The continual metaphor of the pie in reflecting Jenna's mentality is itself very troubling. A pie is defined by it's filling, but Waitress wanders through this weak and silly metaphor as if it were as intelligent as, say, Sideways' use of wine. It does little but add to the absurdity that filters through Waitress, from its cast of one-dimensional charicatures, who seem to have no motivation for any actions they undertake, to Jenna's relationship with Doctor Pomatter (Nathan Fillion), which is predictable and altogether perplexing. The majority of Waitress and its characters feel positioned and controlled to act like impulsive puppets. Indeed, at times it feels like the story is being made up as it goes along. There's very little opportunity for consistency and recognition, and as a result Keri Russell and Nathan Fillion appear unaware of what on earth Jenna and Pomatter are supposed to be thinking. I'll be damned if anyone else knows.
Fittingly, the end of Waitress is as throwaway as the rest of it, for what few evident concerns Jenna did have about the baby are single-handedly eradicated by the child's birth instead of being addressed. Jenna's mentality completely switches. She's a completely different person afterwards, correlating with the continual spiralling feel of the film -- a forced and contrived exercise if ever there was one. The film says nothing about anything, or anyone in it, aside from that they're the hollow product of some godawful ventriloquist act. If I never see another pie again it'll be too soon.