2 Stars - Unsettling
With exaggerated caricatures creating a quirky yet engaging comedy, Adrienne Shelley’s “Waitress,” is an entertaining film. As both writer and director, Shelley casts herself in one of the supporting roles and gives an endearing performance. The film does, however, share the same shortcoming as films such as “Little Miss Sunshine” and “The Break Up.” However entertaining such comedies may be on a superficial level, the moral and spiritual lives of the characters are empty. There is no spiritual presence within the film and the moral guidance is vacuous.
Set within a stereotypically small southern town at a dilapidated pie diner, the central character is a beautiful and creative young woman named Jenna (Keri Russell). Married to an obnoxious, insecure, controlling, jealous southern redneck named Earl (Jeremy Sisto), Jenna is plotting her escape. Though these two are set up as contrasting caricatures, you cannot help but feel for Jenna in her plight and recognize that her humanity is nevertheless shining through the comedic exaggeration. Shelley is also amazingly able to give a glimpse beneath the repulsive exterior of Earl as we see him struggling to find Jenna’s love but instead hardening her heart against him with every demanding action and beep of his car horn.
At the diner where Jenna demonstrates her gift in both creating pies and giving them their memorable names, she is befriended by two ditzy blonds who waitress with her. Becky (Cheryl Hines) is married to an invalid husband and feels justified in fulfilling her sexual needs elsewhere, and Dawn (Adrienne Shelley) is a woman who longs for a man’s love and attention. Acted as exaggerated stereotypes of southern waitresses, their support for Jenna’s plan is disrupted when Jenna becomes pregnant.
This is where the tale begins. Though we won’t spoil the story of how everything progresses from there, the social and spiritual values on which the characters base their lives is worthy of discussion. Played with a self-importance that leaves him without friends, the wealthy owner of the diner is Joe (Andy Griffith). As unlikely as he would seem to be to fill this role, Joe becomes the voice calling in this wilderness to Jenna to “do the right thing.” Chastising her for belittling herself in a variety of ways, Joe explains that he has made a series of wrong decisions in his own life and encourages her to recognize her unique value and begin her life afresh. It is this call and the birth of her child that bring about a redemptive change. The problem is that the “happily ever after” solution rings empty.
Longing for more in her life but feeling trapped by her circumstances, Jenna does not realize that she can have a wonderful, blessed life full of love. Having been advised by her manager Cal (Lew Temple) that you can be just “happy enough” by not expecting too much and not giving very much, Jenna settles for far less than is her birthright as a human being. It is this resolution that leaves the film empty of compelling hope and joy. The ways in which all three of the waitresses, Jenna, Becky and Dawn, settle for so little purpose and fulfillment in life is unsettling and is hopefully not the experience of the viewers of this film.
- In a world where we leave God out of the picture, it is not unreasonable to think that we can be just “happy enough.” Do you experience true happiness or are you just “happy enough?” Why do you answer as you do?
- Since there is no hint of an explanation as to why he betrayed his wife, what do you believe caused Dr. Pomatter (Nathan Fillion) to do what he did?
- When a person is married to an invalid, what do you think is the morally appropriate way for them to care for their sexual needs?
- Spousal abuse comes in a variety of forms of which physical abuse is only one. What other forms of abuse did Jenna experience from Earl? From Cal? From Joe? From Dr. Pomatter?