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Forrest Gump's mama always said life is like a box of chocolates. Jenna believes life is like a slice of pie.
Make that hundreds of slices. Thousands. Chicago Lonely Pie. Marshmallow Mermaid Pie. Kick in the Pants Pie. Pregnant Miserable Self-Pitying Loser Pie (made with lumpy oatmeal and fruitcake, "flambé, of course"). Some are sweet, some are substantive. And some can be hard to choke down.
Jenna, a waitress at Joe's Pie Diner, is a dessert-making wunderkind. Her culinary creations are not so much recipes as mystical revelations, conjured while she's on break or waiting at the bus stop. She's the Pablo Picasso of pies, and folks just can't get enough of her masterpieces.
But there's more to life than flaky crusts and strawberry filling, and the rest of Jenna's life stinks. Her husband, Earl, makes Mussolini seem well-mannered. He treats Jenna like a talking doll: an object he can play with, abuse or ignore as he sees fit. Jenna wants to leave him, but Earl belligerently pockets her waitressing money and only reluctantly lets her leave the house. And then, just as Jenna's plotting to make her getaway, she discovers she's got something new in the oven: a baby.
"That was Earl getting me drunk that night, all right," she glumly tells her gynecologist.
Her pie-visions instantly take on a bleaker tone: Her "I Hate My Husband Pie" is cinnamon spice custard. "I Don't Want Earl's Baby Pie" is a quiche of egg and brie cheese with a smoked-ham center. Her "Baby Screaming Its Head Off in the Middle of the Night and Ruining My Life Pie" is New York-style cheesecake with brandy-brushed pecans and nutmeg.
Winning a pie-baking contest becomes Jenna's hope for salvation. The prize money is $25,000—enough to help her start a new life. But Earl won't let her participate. "What's so important about that when you've got me to take care of?" he asks. "Good point, Earl," Jenna answers.
So she instead cooks up an affair with apparently the only nice guy in town: Her gynecologist, Dr. Pomatter.
This is a bit of a spoiler, I'm afraid, but the heart of the film is found in Jenna's slowly expanding belly. At first, Jenna treats the unborn child as part anchor, part monster—an alien-like being that will explode out of her gut and cement her life in unending, Earl-soaked misery.
"I ain't ever going to get away from Earl now," she sighs.
But despite all that, she's committed to carrying and keeping the little rascal, saying she respects "this little baby's right to thrive."
"I'm having the baby and that's that," she tells Dr. Pomatter. "It's no party, though."
And underneath all of Jenna's despair and fear, there's something else at work. When she sees blood spots early on, she calls Dr. Pomatter to make sure everything's OK. She takes her prenatal vitamins and follows her doctor's advice explicitly. When the two share a forbidden kiss and Dr. Pomatter awkwardly asks her if she'd like to have coffee with him, she squawks, "I can't have coffee! It's on the bad food list you gave me! What kind of doctor are you?!"
Jenna eventually realizes that all the pies she's made were prelude to this heavenly creation: A child she didn't want but suddenly loves in spite of herself. Moments after giving birth, moviegoers are made to feel Jenna's pain and despair: Her eyes are creased and weary, her face slick with sweat. Then she turns to look at the baby, takes her in her arms, and the painful world around her literally blurs, fades.
In addition to all the baby talk, there's a tight bond between Jenna and her waitressing friends, Becky and Dawn. They take each other to work, give each other makeovers, and share secrets and comfort. Jenna also befriends the diner's crotchety owner, Old Joe, who no one else can seem to tolerate. He, in turn, reveals himself to be better than the old coot he pretends to be.
Waitress suggests there are two divine gifts at play here: Jenna's pies and Jenna's child. Jenna sometimes sings a lullaby when she bakes: "Gonna make a pie with a heart in the middle/Gonna be a pie from heaven above/Gonna be filled with strawberry love." The characters feel there's something otherworldly about these culinary concoctions. Dr. Pomatter says Jenna's Marshmallow Mermaid Pie is "biblically good," and exclaims, "Oh my God!" when he bites into Jenna's Peachy Keen Tarts—using the phrase as both exclamation and prayer.
But Jenna's baby is the spiritual heart of the film. The stage is set from the opening scene, when Becky prays, "Dear Lord, protect our Jennifer from the hell of an unwanted pregnancy." That opening statement is, I believe, a deliberate juxtaposition to the heaven which the baby eventually brings—a bookend to the film's closing scene when Jenna and her then yellow-clad toddler walk into the not-quite sunset, smiling and laughing down a tree-lined road. The only words that come out of Jenna's mouth when she first holds her child are, "Oh my God. Oh my God." It is an unthinking verbal expression that somehow turns into a prayer of thanksgiving—perhaps a prayer Jenna herself isn't fully aware of, but we are.
Motherhood may be the cure for what ails Jenna—but sex is the aspirin that gives her temporary relief. "At first, it was really about the sex," Jenna says of her affair with Dr. Pomatter, who is also married. And indeed, they have sex every chance they get—in his office, the examination room, wherever they have a bit of privacy. Frantic kissing and groping are the onscreen norm. And one montage features sexual motions. (Clothing stays on.)
Jenna, feeling guilty at first, breaks it off at one point. She tells Becky that having affairs "destroys people's lives," but when Dr. Pomatter unexpectedly drops by Jenna's house to "learn how to bake pies," the cooking lesson turns sensual and, presumably, intimate away from the camera.
Jenna's relationship with her husband is frigid by any standard, and feels especially so in comparison. When Earl propositions her during her first days of pregnancy, she responds by saying, "I feel as sexy as a tree stump." He answers, "Is it my imagination, or are your boobies getting bigger?" In an uncomfortable scene he's heard climaxing with her, while she remains impassive.
Matrimonial fidelity is, frankly, non-existent here. The whoopee that goes on is largely between married people—who are not married to each other. It's suggested that sex outside of wedlock is, as Becky says, "fun" and exciting, a way to fulfill the characters' dowdy, depressing home lives. So it's no surprise that she's also having an affair with the diner's fry cook. (We see the two of them groping in the kitchen.)
Becky complains on several occasions that her breasts are mismatched. Dawn dates a dweebish wanna-be poet and brags about his sexual prowess. Old Joe talks about his old love affairs. But he also tells Jenna she shouldn't have an affair, even if her husband is a jerk royal.
Jenna imagines (and we see) two naked pregnant women, with their critical body parts obscured by magazines and crossed legs. The script drops several crude references and double entendres. Becky tells the speed-dating Dawn to use a "five-minute condom."
Earl slaps Jenna once (hard and across the face) and pushes her face into a car window twice. He tosses a folding chair across a room. Even when Earl isn't acting out, threat seems to linger just offscreen, embodied by his hair-trigger temper, insecurity and childish menace.
Crude or Profane Language
Earl bleats the f-word once, and the s-word also makes a cameo appearance. Characters sprinkle "d--n" and "h---" throughout the film like powdered sugar, using the words nearly 20 times. "A--," "b--tard" and "b--chin'" also get a bit of play.
Drug and Alcohol Content
During delivery, Jenna announces she wants drugs—lots of 'em—to deaden more her emotional and spiritual pain than the physical. Becky smokes. And characters regularly reference the night when Earl got Jenna drunk and pregnant.
Other Negative Elements
Men are the fall guys in Waitress. The worst of the bunch is Earl, the man-child who honks his car horn by way of hello and makes Jenna promise she won't love the baby more than she loves him. But no guy escapes unscathed. The fry cook spends most of the movie yelling at the waitresses. Demanding Old Joe can't stand ice in his water, wants all of his food served to him on separate plates and says he loves to live vicariously by reading about other people's misery. He reads Jenna an advice column in the paper in which someone is asking for advice on how to write a suicide note poignant enough to "harm my snake of a husband and his slut of a girlfriend." Dawn's paramour, Ogie, stalks her until she finally breaks down and decides to marry him. Dr. Pomatter isn't docked for cheating on his wife—in this film, that's barely an offense at all—but he becomes far less sympathetic when viewers meet his wife, a pretty and kind woman who clearly loves her husband.
Adrienne Shelly (who plays Dawn) wrote and directed Waitress to be whipped meringue, soft and sweet, layered over lemon. It ended up being her last confection: She was allegedly murdered by a construction worker in November 2006, shortly after filming was completed—apparently because Shelly complained about the noise he was making in an apartment downstairs. He tried to make the death look like a suicide but later confessed, saying—in a line that could've conceivably come from Earl's own mouth—he had a "bad day."
Without a doubt her death gives Waitress a bittersweet tang and a palpable poignancy.
It was mostly written when Shelly was eight months pregnant, and she wanted to deconstruct the mythology of motherhood—that mothers are the all-knowing, all-loving creatures their young children often see them as. She probed the fears and insecurities that first-time mothers often never voice: Do I want to be a mother? Will I be a good one? At one point, Jenna sees a frazzled woman with her rambunctious toddler in tow, the toddler shooting silly string into mom's disheveled hair:
"No one tells you beforehand how ridiculously hard it's going to be," she sighs to Jenna.
Jenna struggles with her own motherly instincts. When she writes her unborn child a letter, she admits that part of her just wants to run away from her life. "What kind of mama is that?" she wonders. She enjoys her relationship with Dr. Pomatter, but when she writes to her baby, doubts crop up.
"It seems like I'm not fit to teach nobody nothing," Jenna says.
Though Jenna does wring her hands over the affair, it's not all that convincing in the end. And that's too bad. Because it strips the sacred out of sex and the commitment out of marriage. It's telling that when Dawn marries Ogie, the pastor performing the ceremony is interrupted by one of Ogie's poetic inspirations: Promises to love, cherish and obey during the good times and the bad go out the window, replaced by a kiss and lame couplets.
One sweet ingredient still flavors the whole, though: Parenthood is beautiful. True love isn't found in a passionate embrace, Shelly says, but in the tiny hand of a baby, holding firmly to the finger of her mother.
Other Belief Systems
Readability Age Range
Keri Russell as Jenna; Nathan Fillion as Dr. Pomatter; Jeremy Sisto as Earl; Cheryl Hines as Becky; Adrienne Shelly as Dawn; Andy Griffith as Old Joe
Adrienne Shelly ( )
20th Century Fox