Jenna (Keri Russell) is a Pie Genius. At least she's been dubbed that by Becky (Cheryl Hines) and Dawn (Adrienne Shelly), her fellow waitresses at Joe's Pie Shop. Joe's is a small town diner where Jenna's daily pie creations—from Marshmallow Mermaid Pie to Falling in Love Chocolate Mousse Pie to Lonely Chicago Pie—are the main attraction. These aren't just mouth-watering confections, they're like Jenna's edible life journal.
The life she's journaling about has just gotten messier. It's bad enough that she's married to Earl (Jeremy Sisto), the emotionally stunted, verbally abusive boy-man, but thanks to the night he got her drunk and got her to sleep with him, Jenna is now pregnant. Cue a new pie: I Don't Want Earl's Baby Pie, which, for the sake of decorum, gets shortened to Bad Baby Pie.
From the get-go, Jenna is resentful of her baby. For months she's been hiding money from Earl, saving up to leave him and start a new life somewhere else. A baby ruins all that. But the baby does lead her to Dr. Pomatter (Nathan Fillion), the dreamy new doctor in town who'll be handling her prenatal care … and then some. The two are instantly smitten with one another and are soon attacking each other on the front lawn of the quaint little home that houses the medical practice. To hallelujah chorus music, no less. Though they give lip service to the fact that this is wrong—they're both married and she's pregnant—they keep going at each other like hungry animals.
Throughout the rest of the movie we watch how the pregnancy and the affair affect Jenna, who despite her pie genius has been sleepwalking through her miserable life. This change is most interestingly portrayed when Becky and Dawn give Jenna a baby book complete with pages to write letters to her future child. Her first note is an apology, and the rest chronicle her less-than-affectionate feelings for the child growing inside her. I wish they would have explored this interesting, tenuous relationship between mother and baby a bit more. Instead, most of the film gets bogged down in small-town stereotypes and uncomfortable campiness.
Waitress draws heavily from the Small-Town Diner Handbook. There's Joe's Pie Shop owner Old Joe (Andy Griffith), a cantankerous old man who secretly hides a heart of gold. Waitress Dawn is a shy single woman who simply needs a bit more confidence and a good makeover to find the love she's all but given up on. Becky, the other waitress, is the blond floozy. And the kitchen is presided over by Cal, the mean, scruffy fry cook who spends most of his time exasperated by the waitresses. I kept waiting for someone to holler, "Kiss my grits!" a la '80s sitcom Alice. Though no one does, the waitresses do drawl things like "Well aren't you just the queen of kindness and goodness," and give one other makeovers in the diner's bathroom. I couldn't shake the feeling that the characters—and writers—were trying too hard.
This campiness works on some levels in the diner, in the crazy pie creations, in the eccentric waitresses, but the overall effect ultimately fails for me when we get to plot lines about marital infidelity and domestic violence. It takes a careful hand to effectively riff on these very painful realities. I just don't feel that's achieved here.
That said, it should be noted that Keri Russell does a remarkable job as Jenna. She carries off the thick accent, forlorn demeanor, reluctant romantic hope, and tenuous maternal feelings quite well. I just wish she, as well as genuinely likable Nathan Fillion, had been given a bit more to work with. They have winning chemistry with one another—especially when cooking together in Jenna's kitchen—but I'm left wondering why Jenna even married Earl in the first place and why Dr. Pomatter so easily cheats on his bright, young wife.
Ultimately, I just can't get past the ew-factor of a pregnant woman having an affair with her gynecologist. And I'm no movie prude; I've found myself secretly (and guiltily) rooting for marriages to end, Bad People to die, and other things that don't synch up with my values in other flicks. But for some reason, watching an eight-months pregnant woman being seduced by her lab-coated medical care professional in his exam room just went too far for me.
In the end, Jenna does find the joy and hope she's looking for—just not where she's expecting. It's interesting to note who she walks off into the sunset with in the final scene. While this is compelling and will ring true for many viewers, I wish we'd been given a bit more transition to this paradigm shift. As is, she finds her life-altering answer in about five seconds flat. Overall, Waitress is a light and airy confection, only a bit too sweet and with a few ingredients missing.Discussion starters
- What do you think of Jenna's letters to her baby? If you're a parent, how did you feel as you anticipated your child's arrival? How similar or different would your letters have read?
- Do you think Dawn makes a wise choice in whom she marries—or is she settling? Why do you feel that way?
- Jenna finds peace from her disappointing life in the kitchen. Where do you find such peace?
- What do you think the message is at the end of the movie? What's Jenna's "salvation"? Is this healthy or unhealthy?
The Family CornerFor parents to consider
Waitress is rated PG-13 for sexual content, language, and thematic elements. Due to the fact that much of the movie revolves around the pregnant, married main character's affair with her married gynecologist, it's not really a movie for pre-teens. We see bad consequences for married sex and no consequences for extra-marital sex, so it's not really the best movie for "family values," either.
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