Dir. Adrienne Shelly
Premiered at Sundance January 21, 2007
Waitress is the third and final feature from director Adrienne Shelly, who sadly never lived to see it released; in November 2006, she was murdered by a disgruntled and likely psychotic construction worker. Months later, the film was the toast of Sundance and became an unlikely swan song for a cinematic talent cut tragically short. So how does it hold up?
Keri Russell stars as Jenna Hunterson, a waitress and pastry chef savant who plans to win a pie contest and start a new life far away from her abusive husband (Jeremy Sisto). When she becomes pregnant, however, her plans unravel, and she quickly falls under the spell of her awkward but charming– and married– obstetrician (Nathan Fillion).
The weakest link in the story itself is husband Earl (Jeremy Sisto), whose cartoonish villainy resembles a redneck version of Bradley Cooper in Wedding Crashers. It’s unpleasant and out of place. It may be realistic, but just because something is true to life does not make it appropriate for the story being told, especially when everything else in the film, from its lo-fi soundtrack to its overabundance of small-town quirk, is a little too cute. Consider how innocently Waitress depicts the discomfortingly pernicious love interest (Eddie Jemison) of one of Jenna’s coworkers (Shelly), which only puts Earl’s characterization into deeper contrast.
Nonetheless, Shelly’s distinctive visual style elevates the film, as does the natural chemistry between Russell and Fillion. In addition, Andy Griffith is a joyful presence as the finicky, sarcastic owner of the restaurant where Jenna works. Overall, the film is okay.
Signs This Was Made in 2007
The film nearly drowns in 2000s indie tropes. I could elaborate, but it would just be a repetition of my remarks on several of the other Sundance movies.
How Did It Do?
Waitress, the sole posthumous release at Sundance, was picked up by Fox Searchlight and received a wide release in May, grossing $22 million against a $1.5 million budget. Critics were mostly glowing, earning it an 89% fresh rating on RottenTomatoes. Keith Phipps of the A.V. Club was notably cooler towards the film, but praised Shelly’s sadly wasted potential, raising the uncomfortable possibility that the movie received higher-than-usual critical approval due to her murder. In any case, Waitress was adapted into a musical in 2015, which made it to Broadway the following year.
Next Time: No End in Sight