I first came across Adrienne Shelly as an actress. Back in the early 1990s, she starred in two of the best independent films to ever come out of the US — writer-director Hal Hartley's The Unbelievable Truth and Trust. In both films, she plays sweet, pretty middle-America kinda gals. Shelly fell off my radar, but lo and behold she also became a writer-director, and here's her third film — a warm, sweet slice-of-life tale also set firmly in middle America.
Jenna (Russell) is a waitress-cum-piemaker at Joe’s Pie Shop somewhere in America’s deep south. Her pies may be sweet, but her life certainly isn't — Jenna is unhappily married to Earl (Sisto), a jealous, clingy redneck. Jenna is happiest when hanging out with her waitress pals — Becky (Hines) and Dawn (Shelly) — or in the kitchen baking her incredibly popular pies, which arre named for whatever is on her mind at the time: Kick In The Pants Pie, I Don’t Want Earl’s Baby Pie, I Hate My Husband Pie, Earl Murders Me Because I’m Having an Affair Pie. Those pie names reveal a few plot points: Jenna finds herself pregnant to Earl; Jenna then finds herself having an affair with her new obstetrician, the handsome Dr Pomatter (Fillion). All Jenna wants to do is win the $25,000 on offer in a baking competition, leave Earl and start a new life.
This is Keri Russell's first big-screen starring role (she's best known as the titular character in TV's Felicity, or for her turn in MI:III) and she shows an incredible presence and versatility. She makes Jenna so engaging and irresistible that you find your mood changes as hers does, and you can't help but fall a little in love with her. And Russell's costars, too, although all best known for their TV work — Hines in Curb Your Enthusiasm, FIllion in Firefly, Sisto in Six Feet Under — bring depth as well as deft comic touches to their characters.
The greatest joy of this film is Shelly’s love for all her characters — yes, even the nasty ones. We follow them through their ups and and downs, and come to know them and care for them as much as she does. But the overall joy of this work comes tinged with an element of tragedy. During post-production, Shelly was murdered in her Manhattan apartment, making this her final film. Waitress was completed and premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January of 2007. It was a hit with the audiences there, making it a fitting epitaph to a talented filmmaker on both sides of the camera. But the film ultimately belongs to Russell, and if the Hollywood majors aren't currently beating a path to her door, then I'll eat my hat — baked into a delicious pie, of course.
EXTRAS *** There's a commentary track with star Keri Russell and producer Michael Roiff. There's also a whole bunch of featurettes: This Is How We Made Waitress Pie; Written And Directed By Adrienne Shelly: A Memorial; Hi! I'm Keri, I'll Be Your Waitress; The Pies Have It!; and A Message From Keri Russell About the Adrienne Shelly Foundation.