Jaq Watches Waitress - Greatness is Served
by Jaq Greenspon
May 17, 2007
Sometimes, as a critic, there are films you don't want to review. Not because they are bad, but because they are good. Waitress is one of those films. I so thoroughly enjoyed myself at this film, I don't want to have to put on my critic cap and point out the flaws, as few as there are.
Before we get to those, though, let's talk about the good things. They all center around Jenna, the newly pregnant title character played by Keri Russell. This beauty has come a long way since Felicity and she holds the center of this film with the confidence and surety of an actress with twice her experience. This is really her coming out party in the feature world (and no, Mission Impossible III does not count) and she is certainly the Belle of this particular ball. To be fair, though, she is helped along by triple threat Adrienne Shelly, who not only wrote and directed the film, but co-stars as well.
It all works because Shelly trusts both her audience and Russell completely. She's not worried about the Bruckheimer formula of an explosion every ten minutes. Instead, she will allow the camera to linger on Russell's face, letting the emotion play out slowly. And if you go along and wait for the moments, you will be rewarded. Directorially, this slow build works, naturally, hand in hand with the screenplay, which is smart and clever… up to a point. And this is where I have one of my issues. The script is good but at the end, with one exception, there are really no surprises. Almost everything plays out exactly the way you think it will. And while that's not necessarily a bad thing (in fact, some of the ways things play out are quite charming), I felt it could have been better. And this is the part I hate about being a critic. Based on the first 95 minutes, those last twelve could have used another pass. But that's it. That's my big complaint. Everything else works.
In supporting roles, Shelly herself is wonderful. She and Cheryl Hines fill out the staff of Joe's Pie Shop perfectly. They've each been written with depth and charm. Completely opposite is Jeremy Sisto as Earl, Jenna's emotionally abusive husband. Again, Shelly does a nice job by giving Earl enough humanity to lift him out of the single dimension most of these types of characters get handed. And Sisto's performance, while not brilliant, is still well done. Rounding out the love interests is Nathan Fillion (last seen on the big screen in Serenity). Fillion is the man who shows Jenna that love, real love, is possible. Finally, amongst the primary cast, is Andy Griffith. Griffith is Joe. It's his pie shop. He reinvents the "curmudgeonly old guy" role into something unique and different. Again, a lot of the credit has to go to Shelly, who not only envisioned these characters, but had the patience to let them come to life on screen in their own way and on there own timeline.
That all said, this is not a film for everyone. The pace is not the typical fare of the Saturday night crowd. This film will appeal to those who liked Sideways and The Talented Mr. Ripley, people who care about character and are willing to allow directorial indulgences to enhance the story-telling experience. It's a tragedy in many ways this is Shelly's final film (she was murdered in November 2006). Not that it's a bad one to go out on, but it showed the promise of so much more. Between her and Russell, the movie-going public is going to miss out on quite a treat.