Greetings film/food lovers! It’s week two of my spotlight on movies for foodies. This week’s selection is a small gem that was released in 2007 called Waitress. It follows the trials and tribulations of a woman in a difficult marriage and how she uses what’s going on in her life to inspire her pie creations at the diner she works in.
The waitress of the film’s title is Jenna Hunterson (Keri Russell, who many know from her TV series Felicity). Stuck in a small town down South, Jenna struggles working a dead-end job and dealing with controlling/abusive husband Earl (Jeremy Sisto). Jenna works at Joe’s Pie Diner, making creative pies based on her life experiences. One is called Bad Baby Pie. She comes up with that one when her unwanted pregnancy is confirmed. Jenna decides reluctantly to keep the baby. But she wants to get out of the town and her abusive marriage. Her ticket out is a pie contest in a nearby town. The prize for the winner is $25,000. Husband Earl won’t let her partake in the contest.
Jenna does at least have the support of her co-workers Becky (Cheryl Hines) and Dawn (Adrienne Shelly, who also directed the film). There’s also the diner’s owner Joe. He’s lovable curmudgeon played by Andy Griffith. Joe encourages Jenna to pursue her dreams and get out of her toxic marriage.
But wait. There’s more! As the pregnancy progresses, Jenna grows close to her physician Dr. Pomatter (Nathan Fillion). The doctor is filling in for Jenna’s doctor, who she has been seeing since childhood. We also find out that Pomatter moved to the small town partially to accommodate his wife, completing her residency at a local hospital.
Later co-worker Dawn gets married at the diner. The ceremony is interrupted by an irate Early, who demands Jenna come home with him. At the house, he confronts her about the stashes of cash around the house. Jenna tells him the money is for the baby. She is then forced to spend that money for her new life away from Earl on things for the baby.
Jenna gives birth to her baby girl Lulu. The fact that it’s a girl disappoints Earl. And Earl reminds Jenna of a promise she made never to love the baby more than him. It is here where Jenna finally sticks up for herself, telling Early she won’t take his abuse anymore and wants a divorce. Earl tries to attack her, but is escorted from the hospital by security.
As Becky and Dawn help Jenna prepare to leave the hospital, we learn Joe has collapsed and slipped into a coma. Jenna then remembers an envelope Joe gave her before the baby was born. In it there’s a card with a hand drawn sketch of Jenna. Plus, Joe left her a check for $270,450 to start a new life for herself. There’s a message of friendship in the card that is one of the film’s most touching moments. Jenna then sees Dr. Pomatter one last time, breaking off their relationship.
Waitress no doubt sounds like a soap opera. And it sort of is. But it’s a very entertaining one. A major reason for that is the screen presence of Keri Russell as Jenna. She is warm, sympathetic and an easy character to root for. Jenna isn’t perfect. It’s heartbreaking watching Jenna put up with Earl so long. But it’s also very effective and true to life. Cheryl Hines and Adrienne Shelly turn in solid performances as supportive co-workers Becky and Dawn. Nathan Fillion is delightful as Dr, Pomatter. But my favorite supporting performance is Andy Griffith as Joe, the diner’s owner. He’s cantankerous but also has a big heart under all his bluster. He’s Jenna’s biggest supporter and the relationship between them is handled beautifully by the actors and the film’s screenplay.
What’s sad about Waitress is director Adrienne Shelly was killed shortly after filming was completed. Shelly also wrote the screenplay. The film showed that Shelly had so much potential as a director. But the last film she made was touching, funny and a great slice of life. While watching it, don’t be surprised if you end of coming up with pie ideas of your own.