Keri Russell glows in Waitress (2007), the sweet, sour and sexy film by actress-turned-filmmaker Adrienne Shelly. She is amazingly funny as Jenna, the melancholy pie queen of a highway eatery in a vaguely drawn small Southern town. This is a place where the waitresses call each other “Hon” and toss in a little good-natured attitude with their customers’ orders.
Jenna is secretly saving money to escape a suffocating marriage to a pathologically possessive husband (Jeremy Sisto). When an unwanted pregnancy throws one more anchor around her life, the mix of desperation and hormonal overload fans the sparks of attraction to the town’s charmingly nervous OBGYN (Nathan Fillion, long before Firefly and Castle) into a four-alarm affair.
While Waitress can be mannered, what with its sisterhood of the waitresses (Cheryl Hines and director Shelly) clucking in chorus to Jenna’s ordeals and Andy Griffith as the crotchety old diner owner with a heart of gold, it’s also genuinely, genially funny and carries a modestly affirming moral: You have to make yourself happy and you have to be able to live with yourself. Shelly is all heart as she watches her Waitress staff find their own balance, and the blood that pumps through their quirky personalities and odd relationships fills the film with an irresistible spirit.
The tartly enjoyable romantic comedy is a wonderful memorial to Shelly, who was murdered before debuting the film at Sundance 2007, and the film is strong enough to shine from under the shadow of sadness her untimely death casts. Waitress is no eulogy. It is a celebration, and that makes it a worthy celebration of her life and art.