How does someone describe a lighthearted, rather lightweight feminist film in the context of the actual murder of the 40-year-old woman who wrote, directed and acted in the movie? Her name was Adrienne Shelly ("Factotum," "Searching for Debra Winger"). Her last film, "Waitress," is playing now in many theaters. Ms. Shelly was killed last November in her apartment/office in New York City by a man doing repairs in her building.
If you see "Waitress," you'll notice the murder victim as the bespectacled woman whose character is Dawn. She's a good bud with sister waitresses Becky, played by Cheryl Hines ("Curb Your Enthusiasm") and Jenna (Keri Russell). It was the TV series, "Felicity," that Ms. Russell also had the lead.
As the film opens, a home pregnancy test has just indicated that Jenna is with child. Jenna's jerk of a husband, Earl, played by Jeremy Sisto ("Six Feet Under"), made it happen about six weeks earlier when he got her drunk one night. Jenna claims that's the only way the conception could have occurred. One line of dialogue well into the movie reveals that Earl has changed a lot since the wedding; otherwise, we'd wonder why smart, pert and pretty Jenna would even give this dork the time of day, let alone marry him.
Jenna would rather serve customers the great pies she makes at Joe's Pie Shop than being a mother. Moreover, Jenna has been trying to figure out a way to leave her abusive husband and recycle her life. The pregnancy has come at a most inopportune time.
The little southern town's new OB/GYN (Nathan Fillion) and Jenna find they are quite attracted to each other after enough visits to the doctor's office. Although each is married to someone else, the relationship moves beyond professional doctor/ patient contact. (I'm wondering what the AMA thinks about that.) Nothing sexy or lurid is shown, just some comic kissing and haggling over whether they should continue to see one another on the sly.
Meanwhile, Jenna, besides making great pies, discusses her problems with her two waitress buds as well as the diner's owner, Old Joe, played by the legendary Andy Griffith ("No Time For Sergeants," "A Face in the Crowd"). Griffith looks quite elderly in the film since he is; but it's great to see Opie's daddy back on the screen again after all these years.
And if Ron Howard and Don Knotts had shown up at the pie shop, we would have been a couple of clicks closer to what could have been titled, "Return to Mayberry," only with a smidgen of feminist naughtiness thrown in for the sake of modernity. Ain't, er, Aunt Bee would not have approved!
I know that Ms. Shelly made us a comedy, but every male in the film is stupid, including the physician. (I wonder if the AMA could handle that.) Some slack was cut by Ms. Shelly for Griffith, however, who, in a curmudgeon style Sheriff Taylor, seems only a little short on smarts with a whole lot of wisdom hiding under his hat. Despite the movie being grounded in good nature with lots of heart, it comes off paper-thin and, at times, predictable and a bit boring.
Strangely, there are two tragedies attendant to this comedy. The first is the terrible fact that a rather young, talented director, writer and actor fell victim to homicide not long after her film was released. The second is that we'll never know where Adrienne Shelly's talent would have taken her and, for that matter, anyone else who loves an entertaining movie like "Waitress."