In Waitress writer/director Adrienne Shelly crafts a whimsical tale around a character filled with such sorrow it is hard to imagine she sees any light amidst the darkness of her life. That we are lucky enough to spend some time with her is thanks to Shelly’s vision – a vision cruelly cut short when she was murdered before this film was accepted into the 2007 Sundance Film Festival.
Jenna is a waitress at Joe’s Pie Diner, a job she finds more rewarding than any other aspect of her life – partly due to her lifelong love of piemaking and partly because the rest of her life is so awful. Her husband is an abusive, emotionally desperate man, who controls her free time and money such that although she wants to escape him, she just can’t manage to get away. Her pie waitressing colleagues Becky (Cheryl Hines) and Dawn (Shelly) also suffer at the hands of men, but for very different reasons. The realisation that she is pregnant brings Jenna to her doctor, only to find the much younger Dr. Pomatter (Nathan Fillion) has taken over the practice.
The female characters in Waitress are brilliantly written and brought to life, and are a credit to Shelly who conceived them. The males on the other hand come off pretty badly, with every one of them emotionally manipulative or worse. Even Becky’s invalid husband gets the blame when surely he can’t be held responsible for all of her problems on account of his infirmity. That the ‘knight in shining armour’ role goes to Fillion as a bumbling, nervous, ethically dubious doctor who cheats on his wife can only suggest that perhaps Shelly was trying to make some kind of point.
Aside from this gender imbalance, the writing is beautiful and features a surprising charm and wit. The lifestyle of the small town waitress is evoked magnificently, and the characters that make up such a society are (as expected from every other film detailing such communities) suitably varied and at times bizarre. Several character archetypes are present, however, and the plot turns that occur in following Jenna’s progress through pregnancy are often predictable, but it is the charm of the writing and the cast that makes the film enjoyable in spite of those flaws.
As light and fluffy as one of Jenna’s best creations, with just a hint of something deeper beneath the crust, Waitress is a pleasant diversion without being life-changing. A fun treat for the end of a busy week.Rating: