Just A Piece Of Pecan Pie, And All I Want Is You

waitress.jpgIf I had a penny for everything I liked about Waitress, I would have many pennies. For starters, the film is the first romantic comedy I've seen in a long, long, long time that didn't feel as if it inhabited that godawful stereotype known as "romantic comedy." You know the ones I'm talking about: Reese/J.-Lo/somebody falls for Matthew/Josh/Matthew again in a sappy, phony, abrasively manipulative piece of tripe that's a trial to watch. These films are ostensibly aimed at women, but that's like saying The Transporter 2 is aimed at men, when really it's aimed at the lowest common denominator who have decided that the cars-go-boom id that often fuels us as a gender is something they'd like to live by every day. Hell, I like a well-done action movie as much as the next guy, but I'm not dumb enough to think that that's all there is. Same thing with typical romantic comedies: They're not actually good, but most women don't even bother defending them as good. They just watch them. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Waitress is wonderful for many reasons, but the one that encompasses them all is its stubborn refusal to be a complacent, shallow, emotionally artificial movie. It's resonant, honest, open, and downright warm and fuzzy, and screw anyone who wants to bust my balls for saying that. Where most movies are syrupy and off-putting, Waitress is genuinely sweet and engaging. Writer-director Adrienne Shelly imbues her heroine, Jenna (Keri Russell), with the kind of deep-rooted sadness the genre usually avoids like the plague. She's living in a small Southern town, where she works as a waitress and lives with her dull, abusive clod of a husband, Earl (Jeremy Sisto), and isn't happy in the least when she turns up pregnant. Jenna isn't worried to tears over how she'll work the baby into her life with Earl; she isn't frightened of what Earl will do to her or the child; and she certainly isn't grinning blissfully at the thought of decorating a nursery in her tiny house. She's worn down by life, and it's tragic. But that's not to say the film is overly dark. Shelly balances the mood with a mild, light humor, often driven by Jenna's fellow waitresses, Becky (Cheryl Hines) and Dawn (Shelly). Shelly delights in crafting quirky dialogue that sounds almost vaguely formal, as if the characters are inhabiting quaint stereotypes of Southern people who have never actually existed. (Off the top of my head, there's the moment when diner owner Cal [Lew Temple] explains his theory of life and happiness to a distraught Jenna, ending with something like, "That's my truth, summed up for your feminine judgment." It's nothing groundbreaking, but it's still fresher than you'd expect.) The same goes for the relationship Jenna initiates with her doctor, Dr. Pomatter (Nathan Fillion). Rather than (a) rule out an affair from the get-go or (b) have Jenna and the good doctor wait it out until Earl is deus ex machinaed right out of the picture, Shelly has Jenna and Pomatter begin a sexual affair after a few meetings. It's heartbreaking to hear Jenna's narration, spelled out in caustic letters to the unborn baby she's already resenting, in which she relates how she gets "addicted" to actually mattering to someone, to having her words and feelings fall on the ears of a man who isn't dumb and cold. But Shelly's film is ultimately a comedy, so she only flirts with the legitimate complications that would bog down a drama: Earl has a few moments of tenderness for Jenna, which doesn't redeem him but does at least portray him as a feeling mammal. And Pomatter is married to a beautiful, wonderful, supporting woman, which is why she's on screen for a total of maybe 30 seconds; any longer and Shelly would risk having the audience oversympathize with Pomatter's wife and start to hate this handsome guy who's apparently willing to take it wherever he can get it. That's the tricky part about making a comedy where all these annoying feelings are involved, but Shelly pulls it off by keeping things somewhat light. Look, this obviously isn't a full-on review, just a few brief thoughts about a movie I saw on my own time, for my own pleasure. But the film is so relentlessly sweet, and so damn honest about it, that I found myself more moved than I had been for a long time in the presense of a romantic comedy. Not that I was moved to extreme emotions: The humor here are solid, but not uproarious; the sadness here is deep, but not unbearable. Rather, Waitress is so honest about what it wants to do, so willing to wear its heart on its sleeve and quietly lay out a simple, kind, and emotionally true story that the effect is captivating.