Sunday, May 6, 2007

From the Tribeca Film Festival: WAITRESS

This is a charming movie about Jenna (Keri Russell), an unhappily pregnant waitress married to an abusive husband. The film opens as she's taking a pregnancy test (they were 99% accurate 20 years ago and probably even higher today) in the ladies room of the Southern pie shop and diner where Jenna is a brilliant pie chef. Her two girlfriends and sister waitresses (you know it's comedy because the female main character has friends like a real person; in dramas the main character is usually a male with no friends) are there for support.

Jenna's goal is to use the money she's been squirreling away from Earl (Jeremy Sisto) to get out of town and win the prize at the big pie-baking contest. She's ambivalent about the pregnancy. Earl (the name echos of the Dixie Chicks' "Goodbye Earl") is a big needy baby himself, who makes Jenna promise to love him more than the baby.

Jenna and her doctor (Nathan Fillion) are madly attracted to each other. He sparks her self-confidence but she's going to need something more than a mad crush on a married man to get out of town and make it on her own.

Jenna's waitress friends are played by Cheryl Hines and Adrienne Shelly* (who also directed). They provide capable support and humorous counterpoint with their own romances, illicit and otherwise.

Joe (Andy Griffith) is the local mogul who includes the pie diner among his holdings. No one likes him except Jenna, his favorite waitress. Joe reads horoscopes to her from his newspaper. The paper is yellowed and looks like hot type from the pre-computer era. Either he reads old newspapers or this is another tip from the director that the story is not quite magical realism but more than really real.

Keri Russell shines as Jenna. Having seen her as TV's FELICITY** I thought she was a good actress trying to overcome the curse of being beautiful. Either the scripts and directing were weak or she has improved tremendously as an actress. I found her performance to be authentic and it shows why people leave small towns. Smallville doesn't have shelters for abused spouses.

The movie looks like a metaphor for the process of getting a project in a theatrer. You could have a great script and director (pie recipe and chef) but you need support from a producer to get it made. See this entertaining movie and after the show have a slice of key lime on me.

*Shelly was murdered in November 2006, allegedly by a construction worker who tried to make it look like a suicide. With old-fashioned detective work, kudos to the NYPD, which quickly refuted the suicide angle that major media irresponsibly reported.

**The times I saw her show, I would come in the living room just to be sociable with my wife and watch an episode. I usually leave the room when these ladies' dramas engage in male-bashing, commenting to my wife, "No guy I know treats women like that." I thought FELICITY's main plot sent a terrible message to young ladies--stalking a guy she had a crush on.

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