Cinefile: 'Waitress': In memoriam

The limited release of Adrienne Shelly's Waitress is a bittersweet coda to the actress/director/writer's tragic life story.

waitress 88 (photo credit: )
waitress 88
(photo credit: )
The limited release of Adrienne Shelly's Waitress is a bittersweet coda to the actress/director/writer's tragic life story. Shelly, best known for her distinctive and wonderful performances in Hal Hartley's early films, The Unbelievable Truth and Trust, was murdered last fall (in a bizarre twist, her killer made her death appear to be a suicide, confusing authorities for a few days) just after she finished preparing Waitress, her third film as director, for submission to the Sundance Festival. It was accepted to the highly competitive festival and has received mostly positive reviews now that it has been released throughout the US. I just saw the film in New York, where I am visiting on vacation, and was pleasantly surprised that the movie was so good that I was able to forget about the sadness of Shelly's death and just enjoy the movie. It's a simple film, but a charming one, in which a number of actors best known for their work on television get a chance to shine on the big screen. It tells the story of Jenna (Keri Russell from Felicity), a young waitress at a diner in the deep South of the US. A gifted cook who expresses herself by concocting delicious pies, Jenna suffers at the hands of her abusive husband (Jeremy Sisto of Six Feet Under) and plans to leave him. But when she finds out she's pregnant, she's not sure what to do and is drawn into a politically incorrect but believable flirtation with her doctor. Shelly and Cheryl Hines (Curb Your Enthusiasm) play her co-workers and Andy Griffith has never been better as the owner of the diner. Although the film isn't particularly original, its sincerity, affection for its characters and wonderful acting make it an enjoyable experience. At the end, when Russell does a scene with a toddler played by Shelly's own 3-year-old daughter, it's impossible not to be flooded by sadness. Shelly's widower has established a foundation in her memory to award grants to women filmmakers. You can read more about it at THE CANNES Film Festival is still running and at press time only a handful of movies had been shown, but the critics (whose opinions often don't match those of the judges) had already formed some strong opinions. The opening night movie, Wong (In the Mood for Love) Kar-Wai's My Blueberry Nights, drew lukewarm reviews. The film, which stars singer Norah Jones in her acting debut, tells the story of a woman on the rebound who goes on a road trip and is the director's first English-language film. A.O. Scott in The New York Times wrote: "My initial impression is of a sweet, insubstantial movie that might have been more exciting - more meaningful - to make than it is to see." Scott, and most other critics, were more enthusiastic about a Romanian film, 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days, made by a much lower-profile director, Cristian Mungiu. It's a bleak look at Romania during the last days of the Ceausescu dictatorship and is about a young woman who gets pregnant and wants to have an abortion, in a story that is a metaphor for the moral decay of the regime. The buzz about the Coen brothers‚ latest film, No Country for Old Men, is that it's their best in years and that Javier Bardem is especially good in the lead. The Coens can expect to leave Cannes with another award to add to their collection. But although Cannes may be the most important festival in the world for serious cineastes, it's also a showcase for commercial films and has always been known for a circus-like showbiz atmosphere. None of the movies in any of the competitions will garner as much publicity as Jerry Seinfeld did for his bungee-jumping stunt - he jumped from the Carleton Hotel Pier while photographers snapped away - to promote Bee Movie, an animated movie for which he provides the voice for one of the characters. It won't be released until next fall, but Seinfeld has already scheduled a visit to Israel in November to promote it. Many of his Israeli fans would be surely be more than happy to welcome him to the Holy Land with a perfect airport pickup. ANOTHER EXCELLENT Israeli documentary is playing at the Jerusalem Cinematheque on Saturday night at 9:30 p.m., A Working Mom, by Limor Pinhasov and Yaron Kaftori. The film focuses on a Bolivian foreign worker in Israel and the complex reality she faces when she returns home after years of supporting her family from afar.