A review of “Waitress” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ***

Rating: PG-13 for language and sexual situations

Run Time: 1 hour, 48 minutes

 

 

Keri Russell sheds her Felicity-esque coed in favor of a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

Well, sort of.  Jenna (Russell) is a cook and waitperson at cozy Joe’s Pie Diner, a woman for whom the seductive art of baking is an emotional retreat from a bad marriage that stems the flow of her oversized dreams.

Jenna spends her time crafting scrumptious recipes for delectable pies while devising a detailed plan to leave her abusive husband (Jeremy Sisto as Earl) and enter a major stakes Pie Bake-Off.

A positive pregnancy test brings Jenna back to earth with a resounding thud. Good-bye inspiration and fantasies of flight! A routine visit to the town doctor (Nathan Fillion as Dr. Pomatter) nets her more than her feet in the stirrups when she and the good doctor embark on a torrid affair.

To deal with life’s bell curve Jenna bakes. And bakes. And bakes some more a la a series of mouth-watering tutorials for which Jenna concocts sweet and savory treats with toothsome titles. “I Hate My Husband Pie” – bittersweet chocolate and burnt caramel, “I Can’t Have No Affair Pie” – vanilla custard meringue, hold the bananas, and “I Don’t Want Earl’s Baby Pie” – a pungent merger of eggs, smoked ham and Brie.

“Waitress” is tricky to pin down – not quite a comedy but flightier than your average drama. Production design is pure John Waters – vibrant, funky and a bit twisted – while inconsistent overtones lean precariously close to cute yet manage to surge both poignant and wistful.

Quirky supporting cast lends humor in all the right places – in particular Cheryl Hines and Adrienne Shelley (who wrote and directed but was tragically murdered before the film’s Sundance debut) as winsome waitresses with their own copious baggage. An ancient Andy Griffith plays Joe’s ornery owner and the film’s moral compass.

Russell is the real deal, her guileless baby face belying a fierce intelligence and resounding charm that ushers “Waitress” to a delicious finish yet leaves you hungry for more.