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Waitress (2007)

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
DVD Released: 11/27/2007

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2
Video: 1/2
Audio: 1/2
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 11/5/2007

Those who know me are aware of the fact that I'm not a fan of "slice-of-life" movies. I get enough of everyday life in everyday life, so I enjoy movies for escape. But, occasionally a movie from this sub-genre comes along which breaks the mold. These special films present real characters in real-life situations, but they put a unique spin on the story. Although it's over-the-top at times, Clerks is such a film. A new entry into this elite group is Waitress, a slice-of-life cum chick-flick which still manages to be funny, charming, and touching.

Keri Russell stars in Waitress as Jenna Hunterson. Jenna's life is dominated by pain and pastries. She works as a waitress in a diner, which specializes in serving pies. Jenna's specialty is creating unique pies which everyone loves. Jenna often escapes into her imagination, where she creates new pie recipes.

She's best friends with her co-workers, Becky (Cheryl Hines) and Dawn (Adrienne Shelly). As the story begin, Jenna learns that she's pregnant. This doesn't make her happy, as she's no longer in love with her controlling husband, Earl (Jeremy Sisto). Earl refuses to let Jenna keep any of her earnings and he won't let her have a car, for fear that she'll leave -- thus, she's forced to walk or take the bus. Jenna often escapes into her imagination, where she creates new pie recipes. Despite the fact that she's not excited about the pregnancy, Jenna goes to see her gynecologist and is surprised to find that he's been replaced by Dr. Pomatter (Nathan Fillion). Jenna is not only surprised by this change, she find herself attracted to the man. So, Jenna spends her days, dreaming of leaving Earl, dreaming of running off with Dr. Pomatter (who's married), and dreaming of pies, all the while dreading the fact that she's going to have a baby.

Most "slice-of-life" movies fail because they simply try to hard. If you really think about it, life is made up of routine, mundane situations which are broken up by odd, random events. Many "slice-of-life" movies force this issue too far in either direction, as they pile on too many mundane situations or they push the story into farce by having too many random events. It's the rare film like Waitress which is able to strike a balance and accurately mirror real life without being boring.

To this end, Waitress balances some very depressing issues (spousal abuse, unwanted pregnancy) but peppers it with a strong sense of humor and charm. The credit here must go to late writer/director Adrienne Shelly who has infused the characters with a strong sense of reality. Pregnant women are often portrayed in films as happy and bubbly, but there are women who don't get excited about being pregnant, and the Jenna character really nails this. Earl is certainly a jerk and a creep, but closer examination reveals that he's merely insecure and his fear of losing Jenna, or being rejected by Jenna forces him to act evil. We all know that it's wrong for doctors to be attracted to their patients, but love, as they say, is blind. The feelings between Jenna and Dr. Pomatter will offend some viewers, but they do ground the film in reality.

Just as there are bad things in life, there are good. (I hate movies or TV shows where everyone is miserable!) Jenna gets a lot of support from Becky and Dawn, and these characters provide the much needed comic relief in the film. (Becky likes to drop back-handed compliments and has some great lines.) Jenna gets advice from diner owner and regular customer Joe (Andy Griffith). Joe is a cantankerous old man, who is constantly complaining about his food, but he clearly takes a liking to Jenna and attempts to help her. And despite the taboo nature of Dr. Pomatter's feelings towards Jenna, he is the opposite of Earl, as he sees Jenna as a strong, vibrant woman.

The writing and characters are bolstered by the performances in the film. I've never given much thought to Keri Russell, but she's excellent as Jenna. She's very believable as a woman who is trapped in a terrible life but has somehow managed to retain her dignity. Jeremy Sisto must be good as Earl, because I was cheering to Jenna to kill him! As mentioned above, Cheryl Hines and Adrienne Shelly infuse the film with energy and laughter -- despite the fact that Shelly is playing a wall-flower -- as they portray the kind of friends that a woman like Jenna would probably have. Nathan Filion (who, with this and his current gig on Desperate Housewives, can apparently only play gynecologists) is good as Pomatter. His natural nervous and gawky nature make's the doctor's feelings for Jenna seem even more real. And it's great to see living legend Andy Griffith still working, as he brings a great deal of heart to the film.

Heart is a great word to describe Waitress. The movie takes a realistic view of a woman's life and accurately portrays the ups and downs. To this end, the movie is very emotional, as it's funny, sad, and inspiring all at once. The fact that Adrienne Shelly was murdered after completing the film (and the fact that her real-life daughter is in the movie) makes it all the more moving. Waitress is that rare film which presents a believable situation and, more importantly, inhabits it with believable characters. This "slice-of-life" movie really takes the cake...er...pie.

Waitress takes too long to bring my check on DVD courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The film has come to DVD in two separate releases, one full-frame and the other widescreen. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 1.85:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is sharp and clear, showing only a small amount of grain at times. The colors look good, most notably pastels. The image is a bit dull at times, looking somewhat flat. This may have to do with the movie's low-budget nature. I noticed some occasional pixellation, but this may have had more to do with the preview copy I was watching. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track. This track provides clear dialogue and sound effects, as well as good music reproduction. Being a dialogue-driven film, we get an occasional flourish of stereo and surround effects, but for the most part, the audio comes from the center and front channels.

The Waitress DVD has a few extras. We start with an AUDIO COMMENTARY by producer Michael Roiff and actor Keri Russell. This is a fairly good talk, as they give detailed scene-specific comments concerning the making of the film. They discuss the other actors, the locations, and they fondly remember Shelly's devotion to the movie. "This is How We Made Waitress Pie" (10 minutes) is a general making of. We get on-set comments from Shelly and "junket-esque" quotes from the cast. They talk about the characters and Shelly's work. Too many clips here. "Written and Directed by Adrienne Shelly: A Memorial" is a 7-minute tribute to the writer/director with the cast and producer sharing their thoughts on her. But, they never come right out and say that she's dead or how she died. So, if the viewer wasn't aware of her murder, they'd probably be really confused. "Hi! I'm Keri. I'll Be Your Waitress" (6 minutes) has the actress discussing her character and her work on the film. "The Pies Have It!" (3 minutes) has comments from the cast and filmmakers about their favorite kinds of pie and the importance of pies on the film. The final extra is "Fox Movie Channel Presents In Character With..." where we get brief interviews with Keri Russel (4 minutes), Cheryl Hines (4 minutes), and Nathan Fillion (3 minutes) where they discuss their characters.

Review Copyright 2007 by Mike Long