Monday, August 13, 2007

WAITRESS - bittersweet

I had a penny for everything I love about you, I would have many pennies.  WAITRESS is a beautifully imagined, bittersweet little movie that is likely appeal to fans of quirky humour and stylised photography - I'm thinking fans of NAPOLEON DYNAMITE and Wes Anderson flicks. Keri Russell plays a poor waitress called Jenna who is unhappily pregnant by her jealous, domineering husband. She resents her unborn child for throwing a spanner in the works of her plans to escape and enter a $25,000 Prize Pie Competition (she's an amazing pie-cook). So we see her work in a crappy old diner with a short-tempered manager and her two plucky, endearing best friends. The elder of these is married to a senile old fart and the younger is trying personal ads to find a husband. All three have to work out how to be happy.

Jenna finds an odd kind of companionship through an affair with her doctor (a surprisingly good, dead-pan performance from Nathan Fillion) and friendship with the old coot (Andy Griffith) that owns the diner. It's an admirably brave move on the part of Adrienne Shelly to have us empathise with a heroine who is, after all, an adulteress, and brutally honest about her lack of feeling toward her unborn child. But that's the real hook of this movie. Sure we have funny, quirky characters, but so do a lot of films in this genre. Similarly, a lot of these faux-naif movies have deliberate framing and stylised production design. But few have such a hard bitter edge and honesty to them.

The only real criticism I have is that the movie seems to lose this hard egde in the denouement. And while I like the fact that the heroine is emancipated from emotional dependence on men, it's still by virtue of a man that she is free. Still, WAITRESS remains a touching, genuinely funny, and genuinely fresh movie. It's tragic that we won't be able to see how Adrienne Shelly would have developed as a director.

WAITRESS played Sundance 2007 and went on release in the US in May. It is currently on release in the UK and opens in Australia and New Zealand on August 30th. It opens in France and Belgium on September 5th; in Estonia and Italy on September 21st; in Hungary, Russia, and Norway on September 28th and in Japan on November 17th.

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