With Increasingly Frantic Apologies and Movie-Hero Love to Nathan Fillion

Filed under:Movies,Reviews — posted by Anwyn on May 15, 2007 @ 10:32 pm


But his new movie, Waitress, didn’t serve up properly. He was fabulous in it, and I can only hope that to all the people in the right places who still need to notice him, he was set off to advantage by all the cartoony facades of characters around him. But his character got royally shafted by the movie’s weak resolution. And the shafting of Fillion is the only the beginning of my problems with this film.

The movie’s tag line is “If only life were as easy as pie.” Well, isn’t it lucky, then, that for the heroine, Jenna (Keri Russell), it is! She gives birth to a baby she adores, is given a boatload of money by a conveniently expiring, lovable crank (Andy Griffith, lovely in the only believable role besides Fillion and Russell), which she uses to buy his pie shop where she will continue to do for a living what she does best (make the pie), tells her piece-of-shit husband to take a hike, ditches the suddenly superfluous other man as well, and lives happily ever after.

Yeah, really. The no-account husband never comes around bothering her any more; despite the fact that she goes on living in the same town, he never even makes a power play for his daughter. The doctor (Fillion) who hung on her every word and lived for her every kiss apparently settles for going back to his cloying wife without trying to win back the pie queen. Her cartoony friends are just as loving and convenient as ever, continuing to waitress for her at the new pie shop.

Gah. I’ve said before I don’t go to movies for reality, but believability is key nevertheless. The movie gets off on the wrong foot to start, with unbelievably clownish Southern accents (except Griffith’s, of course) and cariacatures that would be out of place on The Beverly Hillbillies. We suffer through Jenna’s husband, Earl (Jeremy Sisto), doing his one-note Stupid, Controlling Oaf, sympathize with Jenna’s lack of financial ability to escape him, smile at her pie concoctions, fall for the doctor–except she doesn’t fall for the doctor, a fact that’s made painfully clear only at the end, when, newly a mother and newly rich, she dumps him in the hospital hallway. I think we’re meant to believe that they weren’t really in love, that he was using her for something he wasn’t getting in his marriage (well, duh), that she knew it and was using him back for everything she couldn’t possibly get in her marriage and that it’s thus okay that she ditched him. But that’s a little subtle for a movie in which everything else was painfully on the nose, and it doesn’t play well. Instead of coming off as strong and independent, as director/writer Adrienne Shelly (also acting, as one of the waitress friends) must have intended, she just comes off as snotty. “Hey, I got rich, I don’t need you to make it better any more.” I can sympathize with not needing a man to make it better. I can even sympathize with the lack of awareness that made her believe she did need him right up until she found purpose in her baby’s face and means in the card on the hospital nightstand from Old Joe. What I can’t countenance is the movie making us believe she loved him before flipping 180 degrees. If she was supposed to be conflicted about him, she wasn’t directed firmly enough to show it.

Ultimately, the movie is supposed to be a coming-of-age light comedy, but the main decision Jenna has to make is a foregone conclusion from the beginning. There is nothing in her husband to give a second’s conflict about leaving him–only stark astonishment that she ever could have married him at all, weakly played off in a brief line stating that he “changed” after they married. So with her decision made, she’s handed the means for free to go ahead and carry it out. Convenient. The cute doctor’s just a side casualty in it all, and we’re not supposed to mourn him because his rejection means Jenna’s independence. But there’s not much that’s too grown up about a couple of flat rejections and wholehearted acceptance of a fortune handed to you on a silver platter.

I give kudos to one very grown-up aspect of the film, however: writer/director Shelly’s handling of the “unwanted pregnancy” angle. It’s bare, quite real enough, and I’m grateful to her for writing the line “I respect its right to thrive” even in the midst of Jenna’s understandably lackluster initial feelings about the baby.

I wanted to like the movie more, and I tried hard. But somewhere around the middle I had the uneasy thought, “I’ve no idea how this ends. I think she’s going to split with the doctor too.” Damn me for being right. All he ever did in the whole movie was love Jenna–she said it herself, “without an ounce of selfishness to it”–and the suggestion that we shouldn’t feel bad for him is only that, a small thought sparked by the fact that he didn’t leave his wife for Jenna. But then I remember that the two of them were on the verge of leaving together, at his suggestion, when her water broke. So he really didn’t deserve what he got at the end, a Moon Pie and a C-ya, or if he did, the writing was far too subtle about showing it.

I hate to be so negative. The movie was definitely worth seeing (she said, shocking her audience). Rent it, for sweet performances from Russell, Fillion, and Griffith. Rent it for the one very real thing in it: an unhappy expectant mother’s ruminations to her child. Rent it if you, like me, love to see Nathan Fillion making out. But don’t rent it for a believable happy ending or a realistic life situation or even a terribly funny comedy. Rent it for the sweetness of the pies, really.

One last note. Adrienne Shelly was murdered by a 19-year-old illegal immigrant last fall, before the movie premiered. Her daughter appears at the end of the movie as Jenna’s daughter. I hope her murderer is punished to the fullest extent of the law. My sympathy to her family.

one comment so far »

  1. […] It frequently happens that I see movies in pairs where one informs my opinion of the other. After Tuesday night’s viewing of Waitress, I sat down last night to watch Come Early Morning, writer/director Joey Lauren Adams’s ode to … well, I’m not sure to what, actually. Her hometown, where she insisted on filming despite greater financial advantage in other southern states? To her own difficult past? In that last link Premiere says that the lead character is trying to “overcome her humble hometown,” but it’s far less about the town than the classic tale of a family’s dysfunction setting up difficulties for one of its daughters. If anything, the setting, familiar and welcoming, peopled with concerned and loving neighbors in addition to her difficult family, is what keeps Lucy (Ashley Judd, in a part Adams wrote for herself before opting out of acting in the film altogether) going and seeking for some way to improve her road. […]

    Pingback by Anwyn’s Notes in the Margin » Review: Come Early Morning — May 18, 2007 @ 10:22 pm

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