Adrienne Shelly's last piece has all the right ingredients.
On November 1, 2006, actress/writer/director Adrienne Shelly (Factotum) was found dead in the West Village apartment she used as her office. Although it was originally made to look like a suicide, it turned out that Shelly was killed by a construction worker with whom she argued about the noise in her building.
Her last work, Waitress, is a sunny romantic comedy about a small town waitress named Jenna (Keri Russell) with a flare for baking unusually-named and remarkably tasty pies. Only the friendship with her two coworkers, the spitfire Becky (Cheryl Hines) and the nerdy Dawn (Shelly), helps her deal with her dead-end life, trapped in an unhappy marriage with the volatile and abusive Earl (Jeremy Sisto).
When Jenna finds out she is pregnant, she isn’t happy about it at all, and promptly bakes her “I Don’t Want Earl’s Baby” pie. But pretty soon, things start to heat up with her new Ob/Gyn, Dr. Pomatter (Nathan Fillion). Could this be her shot at happiness?
At first glance, Waitress lures you in through some clever devices, like Jenna's imagining her oddly named pies. But it's so much more than that. Shelly’s script is smart and funny, and her quirky, deadpan execution of it brings just enough indie-movie savvy into the traditional romantic comedy story to put Waitress over the top. It is also a woman’s movie, through and through, from the subject matter to the cast.
Russell (Felicity, Mission: Impossible: III) is sympathetic as the deadpan, unhappy Jenna. Jeremy Sisto (Six Feet Under, Clueless) is suitably detestable and maddening as Earl. And the rest of the cast hold up their ends of the bargain, too, especially the cameo by Andy Griffith (The Andy Griffith Show, Matlock) as Joe, the diner's grumpy old pain-in-the-neck owner.
Shelly said that she cast Nathan Fillion (Firefly, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) in the role of Dr. Pomatter because he’s cute but doesn’t know it, and I think that was the perfect ingredient in the role. He is attractive but also a nice guy, which makes one of the film’s major loopholes—his adulterous involvement with Jenna is never really dealt with—easier to brush off.
Seeing Shelly on screen as Dawn is heartbreaking, especially because that role she gave to herself is just so loveable. But she had something to be proud of with Waitress, in the story she put together as well as her performance.
Waitress, opens in theaters this week. And although the controversy surrounding Shelly’s death is now inextricably linked with the movie, that isn’t why you should see it. You should see it because it is sweet, quirky, and good.