You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Film Review: ‘Waitress’

The premiere less than three months after her tragic death at age 40 of Adrienne Shelly's "Waitress" is indeed bittersweet: While the film may not be world-shaking, this warm and accomplished seriocomedy shows a talent much matured since her two prior directorial features.

Jenna - Keri Russell Dr. Pomatter - Nathan Fillion Becky - Cheryl Hines Dawn - Adrienne Shelly Cal - Lew Temple Ogie - Eddie Jemison Earl - Jeremy Sisto Old Joe - Andy Griffith

The Sundance premiere of “Waitress,” less than three months after writer-director Adrienne Shelly’s tragic death at age 40, was indeed bittersweet: While the film may not be world-shaking, this warm and accomplished seriocomedy shows a talent much matured since Shelly’s two prior directorial feature outings, “Sudden Manhattan” and “I’ll Take You There.” While aspects verge on sitcom terrain, this tale of a pregnant small-town woman caught between a bad marriage and a risky affair is mostly as funny and charming as intended. Fox Searchlight pic could do nice biz among adult femme auds, with easy transition to tube and rental play.

Jenna (Keri Russell) is a “pie genius,” having inherited her late mother’s gift for thinking up scrumptiously imaginative baked goods. (The desserts provide a mouth-watering visual motif thanks to Matthew Irving’s heightened-color lensing.) Each day, her latest creation and established favorites draw loyal customers to Joe’s Pie Shop in a small Southern town.

But Jenna’s life seems to have hit an unpleasant dead end: Husband Earl (Jeremy Sisto) is loutish and controlling, and that’s killed her affection for him. She yearns to leave him but has nowhere to go — and there’s enough threat of violence in his demeanor that she squirrels away tip money, thinking her only option is to make a dash for freedom once she can support herself for a while.

So she’s not at all happy to discover at film’s start that she’s pregnant (from a now-rare, alcohol-induced night of marital sex). Figuring her predicament isn’t the baby’s fault, she won’t abort, but she won’t tell Earl about it either, hopeful she can bolt before he notices.

For a while, the only person who knows besides Jenna is new town medico Dr. Pomatter (Nathan Fillion), with whom she shares an almost immediate, overwhelming and most inappropriate mutual attraction.

Meanwhile, at the diner, it’s business as usual. Manager Cal (Lew Temple) yells at everybody. Mousy fellow waitress Dawn (Shelly), looking for love, finds it with a man (Eddie Jemison) who initially repulses her. Brassy Becky (Cheryl Hines), married to a “senile invalid,” is dallying with someone whose identity she won’t reveal. The restaurant’s cantankerous owner Old Joe (Andy Griffith) comes in to enjoy Jenna’s pies and pry into her personal affairs, though he’s more softhearted than he lets on.

Soon she and the handsome doc are having a torrid affair, even as her pregnancy advances — far enough that Earl can no longer be kept in the dark. Still, she hopes to flee somehow. When she finally makes her decision, however, it’s refreshingly a simple psychological shift rather than the result of a melodramatic or comedic contrivance.

Film has an occasional case of the cutes, and the diner dynamic is a bit too much like that on late-’70s sitcom “Alice.”

But for the most part, Shelly the director exhibits enough restraint and deftness to muffle her screenplay’s potential for pat dramedy.

A big help in that regard is Russell’s terse, down-to-earth perf, which nicely grounds the pic’s serious side and provides useful contrast against the enjoyable, often broader supporting turns. Helmer gets mileage out of those reined-in emotions when they suddenly burst, in a sweetly funny montage in which Jenna can’t stop beaming with sudden love for the doc.

Sisto avoids making Earl a stock redneck ghoul, lending him both menace and a certain pathos, as well as enough hick haplessness to keep the airy pic from being dragged into overly grim domestic-violence terrain. Fillion’s smitten physician is a goofy charmer.

Presumably completed in post after Shelly’s death (she was murdered in her Manhattan apartment), “Waitress” is lovingly assembled on all levels, with careful attention to vibrant design aspects that look good enough to eat.

Film Review: 'Waitress'

Production: A Fox Searchlight release of a Night & Day Pictures production. Produced by Michael Roiff. Executive producer, Todd King. Directed, written by Adrienne Shelly.

Crew: Camera (color), Matthew Irving; editor, Annette Davey; music, Andrew Hollander; music supervisors, Greg Danylyshyn, Gerry Cueller; production designer, Ramsey Avery; art director, Jason Baldwin; set decorator, Susan Lynch; sound editor (Dolby Digital), Frederick W. Helm; assistant director, Mark Mathis; casting, Sunday Boling, Meg Morman. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival (Spectrum), Jan. 22, 2007. Running time: 107 MIN.

With: Jenna - Keri Russell Dr. Pomatter - Nathan Fillion Becky - Cheryl Hines Dawn - Adrienne Shelly Cal - Lew Temple Ogie - Eddie Jemison Earl - Jeremy Sisto Old Joe - Andy Griffith

More Film

  • Clark Gable III

    Clark Gable's Grandson, Who Hosted 'Cheaters,' Found Dead at 30

    Clark Gable’s grandson, Clark Gable III, died on Friday morning at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital in Dallas, Variety confirmed with the Dallas County Medical Examiner’s Office. He was 30. “It’s is with an extremely heavy heart we say goodbye to my beautiful son Clark,” his mother wrote on Instagram. “He passed this morning. I will always [...]

  • You Were Never Really Here If

    Film Independent's Spirit Awards Fly the Flag for Indie Film

    As the 2018 awards season marches slowly into its final days, only a handful of honors remain undistributed after some of the most volatile and contentious campaigns in years. Front-runners have come and gone in one major category after the next, as each guild and critics group announced different winners than its predecessors, demolishing expectations [...]

  • A Quiet Place

    John Krasinski Returning to Direct 'A Quiet Place' Sequel

    John Krasinski is returning to direct the untitled sequel to Paramount’s horror hit “A Quiet Place.” Krasinski revealed the news Friday via an Instagram post that said “…time to go back. #PartII 5-15-20”; the post showed the red lights that became synonymous with the alien threats in the first movie. “A Quiet Place” starred Krasinski, Emily [...]

  • Red Carpet Guide to the Bowtie

    Five Tips to a Perfect Bow Tie on Oscar Night

    Warren Alfie Baker is always on the hunt for just the right bow tie. He’s a Hollywood stylist who helps keep such clients as Lucas Hedges, Norman Reedus and Harry Shum Jr. looking sharp. “It seems like the easiest thing to sort out, but so many mistakes can be made,” Baker tells Variety. And the [...]

  • Francois Ozon's 'The Grace Of God'

    Francois Ozon's 'By The Grace Of God' Delivers Strong B.O. Opening in France

    Rolling off its triumph at the Berlin Film Festival where it won the Silver Bear, François Ozon’s Catholic church sexual abuse drama By “The Grace Of God” had a strong theatrical bow in France where it sold nearly 50,000 tickets on 290 screens on Feb. 20, its first day out One of the best opening [...]

  • David Oyelowo Peter Rabbit 2

    David Oyelowo Joins the Cast of Sony's 'Peter Rabbit' Sequel (EXCLUSIVE)

    Golden Globe nominee David Oyelowo is set to join the cast of Sony Pictures’ “Peter Rabbit 2,” the live-action hybrid sequel to the 2018 family hit, sources tell Variety. He joins Rose Byrne and Domhnall Gleeson, who are returning from the first film, as is James Corden in the voice of the mischievous Peter Rabbit. [...]

  • Luke Wilson Zombieland 2

    Luke Wilson Joins 'Zombieland' Sequel (EXCLUSIVE)

    Luke Wilson is set to join the ensemble of the upcoming “Zombieland” sequel, sources tell Variety. Wilson will star alongside Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone, and Abigail Breslin in “Zombieland 2.” As previously reported, Zoey Deutch, Thomas Middleditch, and Rosario Dawson are also boarding the cast. In the sequel, the zombie slayers must face [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content