Monday, June 4, 2007

The Waitress

A film based on caricatures has got to be brilliant, original, or truly over-the-top to elevate itself above the level of matinee entertainment. The Waitress is mildly fun to watch, but there is nothing original or brilliant about it. In fact, the characters are thin and the plot carries few surprises. We have a waitress with unbalanced boobs and a disabled husband, a shy, nerdy waitress who's actually "beautiful," and the central character, Jenna, a sweet and attractive waitress who's married to a creep, though she's a genius at making pies and goes out of her way to come to the aid of all the people who ask her for help. As they say in the Gospel, "She saved others: herself she could not save."

The plot revolves around the fact that Jenna (played with charming ingenuousness by Kerri Russell) is pregnant, though she has no interest in having a baby. On the contrary, her goal is to win a pie-baking contest and leave her husband. She becomes involved with her gynecologist, a somewhat olfish but likable married man. Meanwhile, one of her fellow-waitresses falls in love with a man--the Stalker Dwarf--who pursues her relentlessly, against her wishes, after a dreadful first date, while the other waitress uncorks a torrid affair with the cafe's short-order cook, whose wife they've all known for years. Perhaps the most nuanced character is Joe, the owner of the cafe, whom we are told is "mean" though he doesn't act very mean. Chock up an Oscar nomination for the venerable Andy Griffith!

Yes, there are chuckles here and there, but it's all a little bit lame. The many variations on making a pie are fun to watch, but I couldn't help thinking of a far more creative film that makes use of a similar conceit, Like Water for Chocolate.The panic and confusion of an unwanted pregnancy come across clearly, and Jenna's letters to her daughter are touching, but all serious issues are avoided, and in the end the film is neither terribly funny nor particularly meaningful. What every woman needs, it appears, is a cute baby, a marketable skill, a supportive group of female friends/employees ... and a big pile of money from a dead man.

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