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Slice of heaven

Order up this cinematic pie-making gem

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You’ll want to do one of three things after you see “Waitress”: eat a pie, bake a pie or sing a song about pie (because you won’t be able to get a certain pie ditty out of your head for about a day and a half).  Whichever way you go, you’ll have a spring in your step and a smile on your face. 

“Waitress” is this year’s “Little Miss Sunshine.”  Instead of a van, a road trip, a mute son and a suicidal Proust scholar, we have a diner, an unplanned pregnancy, a fumbling doctor and a crabby old coot.  The little rays of sunshine in this film are Dawn, Becky and Jenna, the waitresses who work at Joe’s Pie Diner, where 27 different pies are served up daily. 

Jenna is affectionately played by Keri Russell, who steps out of the supporting shadows (“The Upside of Anger,” “Mission: Impossible III”) to take top billing here.  Jenna is a pie genius.  Some people exercise to vent their frustrations, some punch holes in walls, some seek therapy.  Jenna bakes pies.  Whatever mood hits her that day determines the pies she makes — Falling in Love Pie, I Hate My Husband Pie, Bad Baby Pie, Naughty Pumpkin Pie and so forth. 

Jenna’s pies are so good and so creative that she should be winning prizes at bake-offs the world over.  Instead, she makes the pies and serves them up to the customers all day and at night goes home to Earl, not nearly the prize she deserves.  Earl (the menacingly sullen Jeremy Sisto) has the distinction of being the only character in this movie that you won’t root for.  He’s a selfish, juvenile jerk whose piggish, controlling behavior makes everyone wonder how lovely, sweet Jenna ever got near him. 

“You are the queen of kindness and goodness,” Dawn tells Jenna — and she is, but she’s far from perfect.  When the new doctor in town (Nathan Fillion) tells her she’s pregnant, her reaction is not joy but disgust. (Who could blame her?  She’s married to Earl.)  She verbally beats herself up: “When I get drunk, I do stupid things, like sleep with my husband.” 

She shares the news with Dawn (Adrienne Shelly) and Becky (Cheryl Hines of “Curb Your Enthusiasm”), but keeps it from everyone else, including Earl.  However, Old Joe (Andy Griffith), the crusty old-timer who owns the diner, figures out her secrets — she’s also having an affair with the doctor — and makes it his business to dispense wisdom along with his daily pie order.  If you thought you might get through this life without hearing Andy Griffith utter the words, “I made sweet love to her all through the summer,” you will hear it here, along with a dishful of other gems. 

Jenna’s not the only one in town with problems.  Everybody’s got something going on.  Dawn’s desperate to find love, Becky’s married to an invalid and is carrying on a secret romance, the doctor is married (happily, it seems); even Old Joe’s hiding something.  Things work out, though, the way they’re supposed to, and in a bittersweet parable such as “Waitress,” we don’t expect anything less. 

There’s a tragic backstory to this film — Adrienne Shelly, who wrote, directed and co-starred, was murdered last fall in New York just a couple of months before the film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival.  We can only take comfort in the little slice of heaven she left behind. 



Starring: Keri Russell, Nathan Fillion and Cheryl Hines

Director: Adrienne Shelly

Rated: PG-13 for sexual content, language and   thematic elements

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