'Waitress' a cynically cute slice of pie

At the heart of the new indie romantic comedy "Waitress" are the creative concoctions of its title character, Jenna, played by Keri Russell. Pies have always been the truest expressions of her soul, and the patrons at Joe's Pie Diner look forward to each delectable new recipe.

I HATE MY HUSBAND PIE: Bittersweet chocolate, unsweetened. Make it into a pudding and drown it in caramel.

Earl (Jeremy Sisto) treats Jenna like a piece of property. He's the kind of guy who says he's above jealousy, but doesn't want men looking at his wife while she waits tables. He's a real bastard, and Sisto does an admirable job of portraying Earl as a needy and misguided fellow, rather than someone who is just plain evil. Earl is so dumb that he notices his wife's breasts and stomach getting bigger, but can't figure out she's pregnant.

I DON'T WANT EARL'S BABY PIE: Quiche of egg and Brie cheese with a smoked ham center.

Jenna's pregnancy comes to represent everything wrong about her life, so despite a close relationship that she shared with her own mother when she was young, Jenna is not looking forward to motherhood. Though the movie is one big predictable package, the cynically cute dialogue-specifically Jenna's narration about her baby-gives the movie a bite and an honesty that is rare in such lighthearted material.

I CAN'T HAVE NO AFFAIR BECAUSE IT'S WRONG AND I DON'T WANT EARL TO KILL ME PIE: Vanilla custard with banana. On second thought, hold the banana.

When she begins to see her new, married obstetrician (Nathan Fillion), the guilt she feels is just barely outweighed by the glow that their affair gives her. If it weren't for these actors, the relationship might seem a little creepy, but Fillion and Russell sparkle with perfectly stuttered timing and old-fashioned dreamy stares that speak volumes. The funniest scene in "Waitress" comes moments after the two are together and finds Jenna glowing, looking blankly ahead in a variety of settings with the same goofy grin on her face. It is a startling transformation from her normal demeanor.


Waitress ** 1/2


"Waitress" may be a tad predictable and convenient, but it offers some frank and funny insights into a woman's mind during an unwanted pregnancy. Strong performances by the entire cast, notably Keri Russell as Jenna- the title character-and Nathan Fillion as her OB/GYN, help to elevate this charming indie comedy.

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PREGNANT MISERABLE SELF-PITYING LOSER PIE: Lumpy oatmeal with fruitcake mashed in. Flambe

Like Jenna, her two best friends at the diner, Becky (Cheryl Hines) and Dawn (writer/director Adrienne Shelly), have their own man troubles. "Waitress" isn't sunny all the time, but the characters' bright disposition may make it seem that way. In actuality, the movie is about finding the courage to make hard choices. When Jenna asks her boss, Cal (Lew Temple), if he is happy with his life, he responds with what could be the motto of every character in the film: "I'm happy enough."

KICK IN THE PANTS PIE: Cinnamon spice custard

There is no real explanation as to why Jenna married a lout like Earl, and a plot point concerning the elderly diner's owner, Joe (Andy Griffith), is telegraphed from the beginning, but Shelly's sharp take on a pregnant woman's inner misgivings keeps "Waitress" from delving into the muck of overly sentimental romantic comedies. Jenna's genuineness shines through in Russell's performance and her frankness is refreshing. Fillion proves that after superb genre entries into sci-fi ("Serenity") and horror ("Slither"), he can tackle anything.

* An awful sidenote: Writer/director Adrienne Shelly was murdered in a random act of violence after "Waitress" was completed in November. It is too bad we won't be able to see what this promising filmmaker (a student and favorite actress of Hal Hartley's) has to offer next.


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