Adrienne Shelly, whose brutal murder last year casts an uncomfortable pall over Waitress, was very much a student of Hal Hartley. Her tense compositional sense suggests someone else’s influence, but in her ability to locate recognizable human feeling in zealously quirked settings is clearly a gift she learned from the man who launched her career with The Unbelievable Truth and Trust. Comedy and tragedy exist awkwardly side-by-side in this drab little film, suggesting an SNL alum’s reinterpretation of the TV show Alice, but these masks do not engage with each other to thrill but to confound. More unfortunate is the story’s almost nonexistent sense of time and place, which leaves us with a film that not only looks visually chafed but one with characters whose behaviors feel groundless. No one is developed beyond a retrograde conceit, none more obnoxious than Earl (Jeremy Sisto), the Cro-Magnon husband of Keri Russell’s pie-making genius. Unhappy with her marriage, Jenna (Russell) begins having an affair with Dr. Pomatter (Nathan Fillion, likely hired because of his uncanny likeness to Martin Donovan, another Hartley protégé), who treats her unwanted pregnancy. Through this affair, she’s superficially elated, but it’s not until she gives birth that she realizes what she really wants. One conceit that does work is Jenna’s relationship to her elaborate pies, whose recipes are intriguing manifestations of her inner turmoil. Predictably scripted, the film also impresses with its flurry of very funny one-liners and excellent performances, from Andy Griffith as Old Joe to Shelly herself as a waitress who works at the man’s pie diner. Russell is especially good, always credible as this small-town girl looking for a way out from her pathetic daily grind, even though the horrors that suffocate her never are.
- Fox Searchlight Pictures
- 104 min
- Adrienne Shelly
- Adrienne Shelly
- Keri Russell, Nathan Fillion, Cheryl Hines, Adrienne Shelly, Jeremy Sisto, Andy Griffith, Eddie Jemison, Lew Temple
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