Waitress: More Than a Summer Rental

After a full weekend of hiking, touring museums, and telling ghost stories by the fire, Anna* and I decided to let the kids have a slumber party in the other room of our rented cottage while we watched a movie. We went to the lodge to check out the two bookshelves full of DVDs to rent. Many of the DVDs featured titles I had either seen or didn’t want to see. I decided to lower my expectations a bit.

Find Waitress at Amazon.com

Find Waitress at Amazon.com

One of the DVD covers featured Keri Russell in a waitress uniform with Nathan Fillion nuzzled up behind her, laughing. Russell holds a pie in her hands. This movie looked older. Like a “before they were famous” film.

I’ve been a fan of Keri Russell since her days as Felicity. And more recently, I’ve become regular watcher of Nathan Fillion as Castle. Yet the two of them together seemed an unlikely duo to me. I read the plot summary on the back: a waitress wants to enter a pie making contest so she can win and leave her husband, Earl.

“This looks terrible,” I said. “We have to watch it.”

Waitress takes place in a small town with a local café managed by the grumpy head cook, Cal, and the grumpy owner Old Joe. Becky, Dawn, and Jenna wait on customers a little and banter a lot during their shifts. They are good friends. They even bicker and make up, too.

Apple PieJenna’s job as a waitress gives her a reason to make pies, something she’s been doing since she was a little girl. Customers at the cafe, including Old Joe, look forward to her weekly specials. Jenna doesn’t just make apple or blueberry pie. She creates recipes that reflect whatever she’s thinking about such as “Fall in Love” pie or “I Hate My Husband” pie. And this is where the pie making contest comes in. Her pies are unique, memorable, a dessert no one else can replicate. Making pies is perhaps the only marketable skill she has. She hides her tip money from Earl to pay for the pie making contest entry fee and bus fare to the event. Winning the contest will finance leaving her husband.

Jenna soon learns she’s pregnant. And that leads her to meet the new doctor in town, Dr. Pomatter (Nathan Fillion). Dr. Pomatter treats Jenna so well she can’t help but be distracted, even enamored, by him.

I thought Anna and I, long-time friends from college, would spent the night laughing at the poor plot and silly dialogue. We like to talk during movies or hit pause and makes snacks like chips and guacamole. Instead, we watched these characters play out their stories without any snickering or sarcastic commentary. We were engaged, rooting for Jenna and Becky and Dawn to find their way. I loved the script. I am a fan of scripts like this one with dry, subtle comedy and dialogue that plays out as if watching live theater. (Think Sideways or Little Miss Sunshine.)

The cast included another “before they were famous” (to me) duo. Jeremy Sisto and Cheryl Hines, who are current co-stars from the ABC Comedy Suburgatory play supporting roles. Sisto plays a completely different character as Earl, the not-so-supportive-or-sweet husband of Jenna. Hines plays Dawn, who is trying to spice up her mundane life as a café waitress without leaving home.

Other wonderful actors include Andy Griffith who plays Old Joe, a gruff old man who likes to eat Jenna’s pies while offering her unsolicited honesty; Edie Jemison who plays Ogie, a quirky guy who write spontaneous love poems for the other café waitress, Becky, played by Adrienne Shelly.

Besides the pleasant surprise of the script and the cast, I found other surprises, too. I learned after watching the film that it isn’t that old at all. It was filmed around 2005. I learned Adrienne Shelly wrote and directed the film and gave the lead to Russell instead of playing it herself. I learned that the film has won awards and has been warmly received by audiences. I started rooting not just for Jenna, but Shelly, too. Go women writers!

I soon found other bittersweet surprises. When I opened the DVD case to put the film away, I found a flyer advertising the Adrienne Shelly Foundation. I had to find out more.

I learned that Adrienne Shelly had a career that was hitting its stride with many projects completed and others in the works; that she was a young mom and a wife; that she submitted her film, Waitress, to the 2007 Sundance Film Festival but had her life cut short before she heard the news of the film’s acceptance. To honor her, Shelly’s husband set up a foundation in her name to support the work of other women filmmakers.

Shelly’s film turned out to be a fun way to close a weekend away with friends. Waitress is a movie that celebrates how we’re all trying to find our way, despite the circumstances we create for ourselves. It also represents something rare: a film written, directed, and performed by a woman. So, if you haven’t already, check this one out.

Here is the trailer.

*Anna appears in my post Planting a Snow Sweet, too.

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