Empowerment and Romance, Sweetly Baked, With Tragic Aftertaste in Waitress

Mildly quirky and zealously cute, Adrienne Shelly's Waitress is the story of three irrepressible gal pals slinging pie and shooting the shit in a postcard-perfect small-town diner. Bearing their sitcom burdens lightly, they are: Becky (Cheryl Hines), the feisty, chain-smoking slut; Dawn (Shelly), the quiet geek; and Jenna (Keri Russell), our heroine, a plucky everywoman with life lessons to face, pies to bake, and oodles of clever voice-over to uncork. Schematic discontent arises from Jenna's unhappy marriage to an abusive husband. Jenna dreams of winning a local pie contest and skipping town until—O, cruel fate of the Inciting Incident!—an unwanted pregnancy complicates her plans. Waitress makes palatable everything repellent about American independent movies of the Sundance smash type. There's a fine line between crowd-pleaser and crime against cinema, and to my mind this guileless romcom largely stays the course. Animated by actors enjoying their work, Waitress won me over with its modest ambitions and transparent decency. What can I say? Maybe it's not my mind that's talking but my heart, which went out to the movie against all odds, heavy with the burden of Shelly's tragic murder last fall. She wrote the script while pregnant with her daughter and, in part, to exorcise her fear of impending motherhood. This heartfelt impulse grounds the picture's whimsy and compensates for its many schematic qualities. Waitress won't set the world on fire, but it glows.

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