Night and Day Pictures
Directed by Adrienne Shelly
With Keri Russell, Jeremy Sisto, and Nathan Fillion
It’s funny how we can go from a comedy about molestation — Garry Marshall’s repulsive Georgia Rule — that’s not only desperately unfunny but actively disgusting, to a comedy about professionally unethical behavior, spousal abuse, adultery, and stalking that is warmly bittersweet, genuinely funny, and sincerely heartfelt. But there we are.
It’s all in the tone. For all that Waitress is indie-quirky and whipsmart droll, there’s nothing glib about it. It has a feeling of … I don’t want to say secret insight about the experience of being a woman, but there we are again: the experience of half the human race is so often seemingly shrouded in the cryptic and the arcane because it is so often simply not within the purview of the male-type people who make the vast majority of movies.
I don’t know how Adrienne Shelly got around that, but it’s what makes Waitress so refreshingly different. It’s in the little details, like how we first get a hint of what a supreme asshole poor waitress Jenna’s (Keri Russell) husband is: he announces his already obvious arrival by car with not one beep of the horn but many; a roll of the eyes between Jenna and her waitress friends (Cheryl Hines and Shelly) screams volumes about all the niggling bullshit that women put up with from men and never say a word about. (That he turns out to be much worse than merely the ordinary kind of insensitive jerk is no surprise.)
This is the experience of women whether we hint at it or not. If Waitress is a feminist film — and it is; oh, it is — it’s not because it is loud but because it is quiet, because it is about the suffering silently and not about the breaking free. Until, of course, the moment that is about breaking free.
Jenna finds herself pregnant with the spawn of the louse, Earl (Jeremy Sisto). She does not want this baby, because it means being forever tied to him, and she is trying to escape. Here are more “secrets” of the three billion females on the planet revealed: pregnancy is not always a joy. Not that there’s a damn thing wrong with motherhood or babies or families — it’s just that it’s not so straightforward or easy or “natural” as the mother-deifying male perspective would like to believe.
Life is messy: really messy. This is, if nothing else, the tale Waitress has to tell. Good people do things that aren’t noble or decent, like Jenna and the affair she falls into with, of all men, the only gynecologist in her small town, Dr. Pomatter (Nathan Fillion). This is very bad in so many ways, not the least of which is the one that has to do with doctorly ethics. But there we are. Shit happens, and sometimes the shit is good. And sometimes the shit is about how a sweet man can be so desirable because he listens to you, because he hugs you with nothing expected in return.
And yet, Waitress is, at its heart and for as moving as it turns out to be, fluffy and airy and silly. It’s not suggesting that having an affair with your OB-GYN is a good way to cope with an abusive husband — and Earl is, whew, a nightmare. It doesn’t intend to downplay the very real plight of women who are, as one character pegs it, “so poor and afraid.” Waitress is overbright, a heightened, sharpened trill on coping — like by inventing wild new pies, as Jenna does as an escape — on how not to cope — by having an affair with your doctor, no matter how cute he and attentive he is.