' Cinema Romantico: Waitress

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Waitress

I must admit that I prefer sad endings in movies to happy ones. I've always been like that. I remember watching a movie with my mom (I don't remember what movie) when I was young and it had a happy ending and I asked my mom why so many movies had to end happy. And she told me that it was because real life so rarely had happy endings and therefore we had to put them in movies.

I didn't buy it then and I don't buy it now. The reason being that we seem so desperate to have these happy endings in movies since we don't get them in real life that they more often than not feel false, forced, contrived, or solely at the request of studio big-wigs who couldn't write a screenplay if they had a magic lamp, a genie and 3 wishes. But if the happy ending doesn't feel forced? If it rings true? If the character earns his or happy ending? Well..........

Let me say this. "Waitress" is the first time in a long, long time I can recall so openly and passionately rooting for the main character to have a happy ending. I truly wanted things to work out for her. And let me also say this. "Waitress" is tremendous, tremendous film. It's so refreshing to see something with such warmth and affection for its characters.

Keri Russell is Jenna, the character of the movie's title. (Russell, by the way, is absolutely fantastic. Totally believable.) She works at a pie shop and she is, basically, a pie genius. No one makes pies like Jenna - either in the kind of pie or its quality. She takes solace in making pies. It's where she goes to escape.

There's one scene in particular - maybe not more than 12 seconds - where we see her making a pie. That's it. Nothing else. But you can see exactly where she is. Namely, her happy place. And as I saw that scene, I saw myself.

See, the rest of her life isn't all that great. She's married to an abusive, cluless lug (Jeremy Sisto). She's trying to hide money from her jerk of a spouse so she can get away, or maybe enter this pie contest she's read about it. She's just learned she's pregnant and, quite frankly, she isn't that excited about it. She doesn't want congratulations from anyone about it. She doesn't think she'd make a good mother. She doesn't necessarily want to be a mother at all.

And this is where we see how true the character of Jenna rings. She's a good person, yes, but she's not that good of a person. Or, in other words, she's like me and you. She thinks about giving away the baby when it's born. She has an affair with her doctor (Nathan Fillion, who plays it as kind of a variation of Woody Allen - very neurotic but not kvetching) who is also married, and happily married from what we can tell. She hasn't figured out life. She's still waiting for a moment of clarity. Hell, maybe she's even stopped waiting for that moment. Listen, for instance, to way she emptily repeats the many things her husband demands she repeat to him. It's almost zombie-like.

It's also worth noting the only person in the whole film who seems to have any grasp of what life is or what it means - the pie shop's owner (Andy Griffith) - is also the one who's the closest to death's door.

Jenna has the obligatory co-workers (Cheryl Hines and Adrienne Shelley, who also wrote and directed the film) who function as comic relief. But they are much the same as Jenna. Life has broken them, beaten them down. Note how even the major decisions they make are really much more like compromises.

There will be whining viewers who will inevitably wonder why Jenna stays with her husband. Or why she doesn't make more of an effort to live her life. But watching the movie made me think of a quote from my man Bruce Springsteen from the late 70's. It seemed to perfectly capture the characters Adrienne Shelley wrote, and the story she told.

"It's a real simple story. You grow up and they bury you. They keep throwing dirt on you, throwing dirt on and throwing dirt on......some people get dug in so deep that there's a point when it stops getting shoveled on them and they roll over and start digging down. You get down so deep you don't know which way's up. You don't know if you're digging sideways, up, down, until something comes along, if you're lucky, and shakes you until all of a sudden you have a certain sense of direction. A lot of people don't ever get that."

Jenna does get that. She gets dug in, but she gets out. And she earns her way out. She earns her victory. And "Waitress" itself - in this season of blockbusters, special effects and hollowness - is one hell of a victory, too.

(Note: If you did not already know, aforementioned writer/director Adrienne Shelley was horrifically and tragically murdered after the completion of this movie and about a month before its premiere at Sundance. Such a thing is just more needless proof of how unfair life can often be. But if there could ever be a perfect eulogy for a filmmaker, this is it.)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nick, Eric and I just saw this movie and enjoyed it. It wasn't perfect...the final scene felt pretty hoaky, a little gross, but I loved loved loved how she was so unhappy about the baby and she didn't want it and it was ruining her plans, and then it turned out that the baby was her life. And that baby gave her the strength to know what to do for both of them...namely leave that jerk off husband and jerk off lover and make all the doggone pies she wanted. not perfect, but real a real good movie. -becky