I’m a woman who likes pies. I’m just going to lay that right out there for you. Toby is my favorite character on The West Wing because he likes pies. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday because the pilgrims invented pie. The moon is my favorite astronomical body because – and only because – of the existence of The Moon Pie.
It’s no surprise then that I loved Waitress, a film about a woman, Jenna, with a talent for making spectacular pies. She has other narratively interesting characteristics as well: she hates her suffocating husband and plans to leave him just as soon as she wins a pie baking contest. Jenna, played by Keri Russell, also has just found out she’s pregnant and soon launches into an affair with her obstetrician (Nathan Fillion). Also, as the title suggests, she’s a waitress. She works in a diner alongside her two best friends, played by Cheryl Hines and Adrienne Shelly, the late actress who starred in many a Hal Hartley film and who wrote and directed “Waitress.” Rounding out the cast is Andy Griffith, who plays the faux curmudgeon who owns the place.
You can tell right from the start that Shelly was a disciple of Hartley, the indie film god who gave us Trust, Amateur and Simple Men. Her characters have that same studied quirkiness and affinity for flat, funny dialogue. With this film, though, I think she outdoes Hartley. Where his movies can sometime be too clever and come off emotionally hollow, Shelly builds her humor from the characters themselves so it all feels natural. These people are truly unusual, but believably so and that’s what makes them so completely endearing.
Keri Russell is wonderful as Jenna, a character who is so deeply, soul-crushingly unhappy but who still manages to be patient and caring, if not a little cranky, to nearly everyone else around her. Who knew Russell could be so good? After seeing her work in this movie, I hereby pledge to never make another Felicity joke again.
Shelly and Hines are very good, too, bouncing off each other like a small Greek chorus, chirping their dialogue in clipped Southern accents that belie their own sadnesses. Andy Griffith does a nice, quiet job with his character, an older man who dispenses advice to Jenna each morning in the diner. I will admit, when he leaves her a note addressed to “my only friend,” I got a little choked up.
And finally, here I am with the Nathan love. As many critics have said, why this man isn’t a bigger star is utterly baffling. I mean, Nathan’s character is two-timing his wife with a pregnant married woman and all you can think is, “he’s so sweet.” He brings pure goodness to a character who, in the wrong hands, could have been seen by the audience as being perched on a slippery moral slope yet he pulls it off without a hitch.
Also, in my head, I really, really need to stop thinking of the poor man as Captain Tightpants.
So here’s my recommendation for the weekend: go have some pie and if you can, go see Waitress. And then have some more pie. It’s what the pilgrims would have wanted.