May 05, 2007

MOVIES: Waitress (Adrienne Shelley, 2007)

A screwball comedy of sorts, anchored by an utterly winning performance from Keri Russell.

Russell plays Jenna, a small-town waitress; pies are the specialty at the diner where she works, and Jenna is a pie-making genius. During the movie, we see several of her pies being created, each one inspired by a moment in her life. There's the "Pregnant, Miserable, Self-Pitying Loser" pie, for instance, or the "Spanish Dancer" pie.

The "pregnant, miserable" part is because Jenna's married to Earl (Jeremy Sisto), an obnoxious lout; she's only pregnant because Earl got her drunk enough to have sex one night. (Jenna is given a speech about why she won't even consider abortion; it's not terribly convincing, and you just have to get past that moment.) There's a handsome new OB/GYN in town, and there's immediate chemistry between Jenna and Dr. Pomatter (Nathan Fillion), but he's just as married as she is.

Russell is marvelous here, perfectly capturing the movie's whimsy and delivering the rapid-fire dialogue. The supporting cast (with one key exception) is just as good. The movie's writer-director Adrienne Shelley and Cheryl Hines are Jenna's fellow waitresses; Sisto walks a very fine line, making Earl loathsome without making him inhuman. Andy Griffith is charmingly vulgar as the crusty old coot who owns the diner.

The weak spot in the cast is Fillion, who's miscast as the dithering charmer, a role that needs the sweetness of Hugh Grant in his prime; there's not enough insecurity in him, and his comic rhythms are out of sync with the rest of the cast.

There are other flaws, to be sure. The movie gets a bit too cute occasionally, especially in the banter among the three waitresses, which is a touch too reminiscent of the sitcom Alice; and the happy ending is telegraphed far too broadly. But there's such warmth and joy in this movie, and Russell's performance is so fine, that I was delighted to see that happy ending arrive, even if it wasn't much of a surprise.

No comments: