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Heroes of the Zeroes: Waitress

by on November 21, 2010
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Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.

“Waitress”
Rated PG-13
2007

In some ways, 2007’s “Waitress” played like a light spin on “Unfaithful” — presenting without judgment a woman immersed in extramarital affairs and hypocrisies.

One big difference in writer-director Adrienne Shelly’s occasionally goopy-sweet film: It’s about possibilities opening up for prize pie-baking Jenna (Keri Russell) rather than closing off — tragically ironic given this was Shelly’s final film after her 2006 murder.

Shelly’s lasting legacy, then, is this exquisite, engaging film about stunning, sincere slices of life — Russell’s luminous lead, a narrative in no hurry to hit familiar notes, Andy Griffith’s codger delighting in schadenfreude. Even Jeremy Sisto makes us understand his abhorrent character without caving to stereotypes.

Sisto’s Earl, Jenna’s abusive husband, is just another destructive pattern in a small-town, middle-America slump to which she’s resigned herself — quick to praise others’ strong suits, slow to recognize hers.

In Jenna, Earl’s found someone over whom to lord an inferiority complex, and, in a moment of weakness, she got pregnant with the dope. She doesn’t want an abortion’s attention, but isn’t worried about miscarrying. (Russell conveys Jenna’s lack of maternal affection with great gravity, writing a bleak, dissatisfied letter to her unborn child.)

The problem is, Jenna has no idea what she wants, who she is or how to break free; even to the kindly doctor (Nathan Fillion) with whom she’s sleeping, she reminds him of a schoolboy crush.

People misread directions every day, but as Jenna’s intuitions and independence fortify themselves, “Waitress” serves up generous, warmhearted drama that earns its 180-degree turnabouts.

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