Keri Russell. Enough said. That’s the blog post. Goodnight (it’s 3 p.m.).
… but seriously, Keri Russell is such a fantastic, lovely and authentic actress and that comes across in spades with 2007’s Waitress. I first was introduced to her primarily through FX’s Cold War thriller The Americans in 2013 where her versatility, range and ass-kicking are really on full display. And dang, she’s underrated because she never won an Emmy or Gold Globe for that TV show even though her male counterpart did (and he was great, to be fair) and she more than deserved it.
In Waitress, Russell plays Jenna Hunterson, a pregnant waitress at Joe’s Pie Diner who has an abusive, controlling husband, Earl (which is such a great jerk name played to jerk perfection by Jeremy Sisto). Through her appointments with her obstetrician, Dr. Jim Pomatter (played by Nathan Fillion), she falls for him, ends up having the baby and leaves Earl. But not without some bumps and disillusionments along the way.
The film is both genuinely heart-wrenching, primarily because of the way Earl controls and abuses Jenna (in one maddening scene, he makes Jenna confirm she won’t love the baby more than him), but also freaking hilarious. Much of the comedy comes from the hilarity of Jenna’s coworkers, Becky (played by Cheryl Hines) and Dawn (played by Adrienne Shelly, who also wrote and directed the film, and was tragically murdered before it released), as well as Jenna herself. It’s rare in Hollywood to see a woman be so honest, authentic and blunt about her reservations regarding having a baby and the dead-end aspect of her job and life. And Shelly’s direction and writing navigates those twin poles of life well: comedy and drama. That’s not easy to do, wherein the comedy hits right (again, I was legitimately laughing out loud throughout), but also the drama does, too, without being overly sentimental and juggling those two tones through the course of the film.
There are only two criticisms I had of the film: 1.) We do get a great moment when Jenna tells Earl off. It was so powerful I actually thought it might be a dream sequence, but it wasn’t! However, selfishly, I wish we had gotten a scene where she decks Earl or hell, throws a pie in his face! That’s always a fun gag; and 2.) I do wish we knew the motivation for Dr. Pomatter to cheat on his wife because he’s married. We never quite know. We certainly know why Jenna is falling into his arms, but not the other way around. Does he do this with all of his patients? Is he genuinely in love? Hard to say.
Authentic was the first word that came to mind while watching Waitress and after, but another one does, too. Quirky. Quirky is another one of those tones difficult to capture on film, but it felt organic and earned here. And you know, I think even in the darkest moments of life, there’s an element of absurdist quirkiness to it all (like seriously, you want me to promise to love you more than the baby? That’s absurd, but also a very dangerous situation for Jenna). That’s why it works here.
It’s a darn shame we’ll never get to see what Shelly could have done in the future. She was only 40! This was a heck of a start (it doesn’t seem like her first time writing/directing, but it does seem so for a big studio release) and sadly, finish for her.
Overall, if you didn’t catch my sentiments by now, I love Keri Russell and this film was such a hilarious, maddening, authentic and quirky one well-worth going out of your way for.