But trouble is brewing. While she isn't quite happy with her reality, she's doing well enough - so imagine her surprise when she discovers that she's pregnant. She doesn't want to have a baby; at least not right now, having a brute of a husband and wanting nothing more than to leave him immediately. She considers her options. She can (a) have an abortion, (b) give the child up for adoption, (c) move to another state and raise the baby on her own, or (d) throw her hands up in surrender and start a dysfunctional family with the man of her nightmares. At first, she's most inclined to undergo a combination of b and c, but after going through the motions of ultrasounds and frequent visits to the doctor, she finds herself actually wanting this child. How she'll raise it is a conflict.
Things are especially complicated when she spontaneously begins having an affair with her physician, Jim (Nathan Fillion), and when she begins recording her thoughts on life and love to someday give to her unborn child. Throughout her nine months does she get to know herself better than before, her spitfire ways no longer tucked away in mild-manneredness; she's going to have a good life someday, and we have a feeling that she knows it too. To get away from her current one is the only thing stopping her from reinventing herself.
In the years since its release in 2007, "Waitress" has frequently been compared to Martin Scorsese's often ignored "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore" (1974) and the sitcom that followed it, "Alice" (1976-1985), and I can think of no comparison more fitting. Parallel in their ability to make us want to hug ourselves during much of its length, and their capability to make bittersweetness ring as true as moments of authentic dramatic agony, they're all versatile, lovable works. One forgets how difficult it is to translate delight onto the screen without coming across as artificial.
"Waitress" is a lovely little film, and the fact that it was the first and only major directorial/writing project from actress Adrienne Shelly is enraging. Before it was ever released, she was, in a twist of fate, brutally murdered, never to see her film receive the critical acclaim it so deeply deserved. The amiability of the film is heightened and perhaps even a little darkened because of the tragedy that hovers over its name; this is a work that suggests that Shelly could have had a long, prosperous career as a filmmaker. Not a decent-to-average but nevertheless acceptable movie made by an actor wanting to try different things, "Waitress" is genuinely something special, a reintroduction to an outstanding talent with the potential to be a second Nora Ephron. A beautiful legacy it is - we can only fantasize about the great things Shelly would have accomplished in her lifetime had her life not been taken so abruptly.
Because this is a film that has the substance to back up its whimsical tendencies; Shelly has written a cast of characters all three-dimensional and lived in. Notice how she makes the abusive husband role also have saltings of vulnerability rarely seen in film, how its titular waitress is followed around by two gal pals quirky but also human themselves, and how the man with whom she has the affair is nice and handsome but also devoted to his responsibilities, as most are. We're witnesses to complex, if sometimes rosy, lives, and Shelly makes such conceptions seem fluent. But best of all is her waitress, Jenna Hunterson, who is played by Russell with multi-faceted distinction and who is one of the best female characters of the 2000s. Feisty but also careful and smart, we come to love the flawed Jenna, from the way she obsessively bakes pies to escape her problems to the way she remains in control in every sort of situation. Russell is magnificent, and we have Shelly to thank for providing her with a detailed, heartfelt role.
Films like "Waitress" come around all too rarely; directors and writers are perhaps too scared to tread in sugary waters, afraid that, in an attempt to be both sticky and sweet, they'll still seem soft and fattening. Not "Waitress." A wonderful film as subtly funny as it is warm and realistically dramatic, it's a fine example of fluff going far and wide. Turns out you can be amusing and congenial without floating away into the wind, without being forgotten by its audiences days after initial viewing. Surprise.
I have Sara Bareilles to thank for me seeking it out.
The film is set in a small town in the Southern United States. Jenna has plans to go to pie baking contest in a nearby town called 'Jonesville'. Joe (the Andy Griffith character) reads a newspaper called the "Redhood Picayune" - possibly a tip to a town in the Southern U.S.
The movie was filmed on location in Saugus, California
" Seeing Waitress at Sundance was a really emotional experience. The typical format for the festival is that the director is introduced to say a few words before the film begins. It was painful from the beginning to see that there was no director to introduce the film, since Adrienne had died. So the producer and Adrienne's husband Andy talked about how it had been Adrienne's dream to have a film at Sundance. It was very poignant. "
-Nancy Utley, COO at Fox Searchlight
The film was accepted into the 2007 Sundance Film Festival, though its premiere was bittersweet because writer/director Shelly (who also played Dawn in the film) was murdered less than three months before its debut and just before she was about to learn the film had been accepted into the festival. Its success there led Fox Searchlight Pictures to acquire the distribution rights for $4-5 million. It opened the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival.
The film received mostly positive reviews from critics, with an 89% "Fresh" rating among the 163 reviews tracked by Rotten Tomatoes, and ending the year on that site's list of Top 100 films for 2007. It got a 75 out of 100 at Metacritic. Waitress was called a "good-hearted, well-made comedy" brimming with "quality star wattage".The reviewer from The A.V. Club was less glowing, concluding:
It would be tempting to compare the setting and ditzy sidekick/tough-talking blonde/soulful lead dynamic unfavorably to Martin Scorsese's Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore if it aspired that high. With its snappy dialogue and broad characters, it's closer in spirit to that film's sitcom spin-off, Alice. Still, there's much to offset the shortcomings, particularly nice performances from Russell and Fillion and a rare, welcome role from Andy Griffith as the diner's gruff owner, even if he's largely there to set up a finale that cheats much of what's come before. It's an imperfect film, but it's the kind of imperfect film of which it would be nice to have seen Shelly make more.
Mick LaSalle called it a "great American film" that transcends its "air of whimsicality and its emphasis on small-town characters and humble locations."
Awards and nominations
Adrienne Shelly received a Best Screenplay nomination at the 23rd Independent Spirit Awards.
man this is such a really powerful drama movie 2 watch.......its got a good soundtrack throughout this movie......I think that both Jeremy Sisto (From the brilliant tv series 6 fee under) as Earl Hunterson, Nathan Fillion (From the brilliant tv series firefly) as Dr. Jim Pomatter, were absolutely brilliant throughout this movie in there roles throughout this movie.......I think that this is such a very powerful drama movie 2 watch, its got a great cast throughout this movie.......I think that this is such a very sad movie as this is the very last movie of Adrienne Shelly (RIP)......man this is such a powerful drama movie 2 watch but it is such an enjoyable movie 2 watch, its got a great cast throughout this movie.....man this is such a fantastic movie 2 watch, its got a great cast throughout this movie.....man this is such a really sad movie 2 watch but it is such a fantastic movie 2 watch with a great cast throughout this movie.....