Down-home 'Waitress' Bakes a Satisfying Farewell Dish

    “”Waitress”” may look like a crowd of wash-ups trying to make a silver-screen comeback, but the film’s main talent has been AWOL to rewarding results. The first and tragically last film written and directed by the late Adrienne Shelly, the chick flick takes a surprisingly insightful and spirited look at romance and the art of making pie, doubling as a lesson in culinary creativity.

    Courtesy of Fox Searchlight
    Left to right: Cheryl Hines, Keri Russell and writer/director Adrienne Shelly share a moment over a day’s cooking.

    This atypical romantic comedy follows unhappily married waitress Jenna (Keri Russell) in her plot to escape controlling husband Earl (Jeremy Sisto) and the small southern town where the high point of her day is serving up the daily special. After a wild night of accidental sex, Jenna is impregnated with Earl’s baby and everything goes to shit – and seeing as she can’t run away with a kid in tow and the crazed, money-hungry Earl stealing all her tips, Jenna begins to formulate an escape through alternate means.

    She quickly embarks on a different kind of journey, basking in the stirrups of a genuinely awkward, yet adorable, medical professional: the Hugh Grant-ian Dr. Pomatter (Nathan Fillion).

    One problem: he’s married, further mucking up an already scandalous affair. Bumbling and deadpan, Fillion manages to bring a spark of realism to the wan stereotype of the tongue-tied romantic lead; he fumbles at Russell’s bra straps and mumbles absurdities in a way that’s charming instead of irritating.

    Russell manages to put up a stern front, straying from her fluffy “”Felicity”” persona to portray a woman who’s been severely shafted in the game of life – and she’s not afraid to bitch about it. Jenna earns our attention as a compelling narrator, resisting all hovering stereotypes by treating her unborn baby like an unwelcome guest in the motel that is her uterus. She means it when she says, “”Don’t congratulate me.”” (The only less-than-delightful aspect of her character might be a frizzy, lackluster ‘do.)

    In the same vein as “”Like Water for Chocolate”” or “”Simply Irresistible,”” “”Waitress”” whisks a friendly blend of food and love into intricately knitted storytelling. Every twist in the tale is narrated with a complicated pastry, for instance, “”‘I don’t want Earl to kill me’ pie”” or “”‘I can’t have no affair because it’s wrong’ pie”” – but rather than bogging the film down with a fatigued technique, Shelly wields the pie like a pro. Hers are tasty and inspired and asks the question, who wouldn’t want to have an “”I hope I’m not pregnant”” pie?

    Shelly has cooked up a worthy quiche of a final project, each one of her characters quirky and likeable, with an authentic personality that enriches this foray into the world of dating, marriage and singledom. The director herself even snatched up a role as the “”ugly”” single friend, scoring a few laughs on the sidelines with bug-eyed glasses and welcome leaps of logic.

    There’s something about the South and cooking tales that easily go hand-in-hand. The heavy drawls and simple styles of livin’ in “”Waitress”” suck the cynicism right out of our prepared insult reserves, a needed break for our jaded critics. Sure, the likelihood of everything working out this nicely is pretty slim in real life, but that’s why there are movies like this – to make us laugh and recover our oft-forgotten ability to become a bunch of big ol’ softies.

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