In slice-of-life 'Waitress,' baker has more than pie in the oven

Posted: May 11, 2007

"Waitress" stars Keri Russell as a pie-baking genius who would never describe anything as "easy as pie."

For Russell's character, Jenna, a pie whiz/waitress at a country diner, pie is life, and life - in all of its disappointments, ironies and complexities - is very hard.

Jenna's in a lousy marriage to an insecure, abusive and consistently stupid man (Jeremy Sisto), and just as she starts to think about leaving, she gets pregnant. The baby represents a life of servitude and unhappiness, but she decides to keep it.

She also decides to have an affair with her handsome obstetrician (Nathan Fillion), new in town, and cute, sensitive, attentive, all the things her husband isn't. The only thing the men have in common: They're both married.

Jenna's fling is wrong on about a million levels, but "Waitress," a candy-colored movie pitched somewhere between comedy and fable, manages to keep it light - in part because cute-as-a-bug Russell wrings all of the darkness out of it, and makes Jenna a girl to pull for no matter how many mistakes she makes. It's nice to see Russell getting her shot, especially after her "Mission: Impossible III" cameo, wherein she turns up just long enough for her eyeballs to explode. (OK, I'll say it: in "Waitress," she gets her just desserts.)

Critics have gone pie-eyed over "Waitress," but I thought it had problems. There's just no explaining (though the movie tries) why a gem like Jenna - let's face it, she's pretty, she works hard and she BAKES - is married to such a boob.

It's full of peripheral characters who are all meringue, no filling. It's also full of non-Southern actresses trying to pretend they're Southern, which mostly means pronouncing "pie" as "pah."

And for a woman's movie, written and directed by a woman, marketed to women on Mother's Day weekend, it seems awfully cavalier toward the appalling ethical lapses of Jenna's obstetrician, who'd be a predator in a slightly harsher light.

"Waitress" has a sneaky way of sorting this all out. It also has an undeniably good heart, and it's hard to dislike a movie that makes room for a neglected American original like Andy Griffith (the movie's closing-shot tribute to him is Baby Boomer catnip).

Which brings us to the compulsory, depressing epilogue - writer-director Adrienne Shelly, just finding her way as a filmmaker, was murdered in her New York apartment last year. Sorry for the clumsy transition, but there's just no good way to fit that in. *

Produced by Michael Rioff, written and directed by Adrienne Shelly, music by Andrew Hollander, distributed by Fox Searchlight.

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