In a decade where the art of the romantic-comedy seems to be lost, Waitress proves to be a fresh breath of air. I don’t remember the last romantic-comedy released that was as equally entertaining for men and women. They are either, ridiculously sappy and unrealistic, trying to bring out the real girlie-girls, or they’re gross-out comedies pretending to be love stories, where all the stupidity may be funny, it doesn’t lend itself to romance. Rare is the film that can be truly funny, while retaining a realistic love story; one that doesn’t pander to the lowest common denominator, like some horrible dime store romance novel.
Waitress walks that fine-line with great care. It is a truly funny film, full of great characters and wonderful observations on life, while also offering a realistic storyline, one that we can easily imagine ourselves in. It’s lightly quirky, without going overboard on it; it doesn’t tread into Juno-land where nothing rings true; the characters have some witty banter, but it sounds more true to life. They all live in a cutesy little town, where it looks like they’re stuck somewhere between the 50’s and the 80’s, but I’ve been to plenty of towns like that, and know they exist. What ground it most in reality was Jena's relationships; the waitress, played by Keri Russell in a career defining role.
She married her high school sweetheart, who somewhere along the line, lost his appreciation for her and after, probably being king of the school, has gone nowhere but down; he’s now depressed and takes it out on her via verbal and sometimes physical abuse, which he immediately regrets and apologizes for. A lot of these are observations of mine, made through the characters motivations; they aren’t spelled out clearly in the film. And I liked that about this film, they don’t have the character spill their guts every other scene, it’s more like life, where our true intentions stay hidden behind masks of faux-happiness. She plans on leaving him as soon as she can get the money together to do so, which she hopes to win at a pie-making contest in the next state over; she has a real talent for creating pies, and it plays a vital role throughout the film.
A large obstacle comes in the form of an unexpected pregnancy, which regrettably happened one night when she let her guard down with her husband. She shares this news with her waitress partners and only friends; both played with wonderful wit and charm by Adrienne Shelly and Cheryl Hines. Only to them does she reveal her intentions of leaving her husband and town. Things get more complicated when she meets the town’s new doctor, played with some great awkward humor by Nathan Fillion. They share a connection that at first they both deny, because she doesn’t want or need another man in her life, and he’s married to a wonderful woman that he still loves on some level. Eventually they consummate the relationship, but it remains an uncomfortable situation for them both, ending in a somewhat surprising fashion.
That was another aspect I appreciated about Waitress, that love is often messy, that it often isn’t meant to be, that people can fall in love, but that isn’t the end-all be-all and life often interferes; there isn’t a storybook ending for anyone that falls in love. Although I was little disappointed in fairytale-ish ending to the film, that felt a little out of place, but ultimately you’re left satisfied that Jena has finally found her happiness. I also loved seeing Andy Griffith again, who remains forever charismatic, he shows up as the Diner's cranky, but lovable owner.
I thought I could get through this review without mentioning the tragic death of writer/director Adrienne Shelly, but I’m even more devastated by it after realizing how much I enjoyed this film, and how we’ll never see another film from this wonderful mind; we lost a fresh voice, just as she was finding her place in the world.