Waitress, or Macaroni & Cheese Pie

I once dated a guy so neurotically jealous that I couldn’t send an email without him sneaking up behind me with an uneasy smile to try and nab a glimpse of the content from over my shoulder. I used to provoke him by minimizing my screen when I heard the quiet patter of his sneaky little steps, even if I was doing something totally public-sphere like just reading The New York Times Online, which was entertaining except then I’d later have to deal with jealous little fits and crying jags. Since he was not only jealous but an IT guy, I wouldn’t have put it beyond him to have programmed in a keystroke capturing hack on the computer. Don’t believe me? Here’s how he introduced his first “I love you” statement: “I had a dream last night that you slept with another man. I dreamt that I found him and killed him.”

“Uh huh? I’m glad I survived. So, is that your way of saying that you want to be monogamous?”

“Yes… I think I’m falling in love with you.”

I couldn’t help channeling Postcards From the Edge, and answered, “When will you know for sure?”*

I’ve seen some jealous, needy, codependent sickos in the movies, but nothing compared to this guy. Then, last week, I slid Waitress into the DVD player and encountered Earl (Jeremy Sisto). Holy shit! The thing about visible male need is that it’s simultaneously captivating and disgusting getting a chance to see the hard, definite, phallic body liquefy before your very eyes. Sisto melts twice in the film. The first time, when he discovers that his wife, Jenna (Kerri Russell), is pregnant, he breaks down and makes her swear never to love the baby more than she loves him (she is required to repeat her oaths to him word for word). And the second time when this weasly, possessive, little narcissist discovers that she’s been hiding money around the house, which she intends to use to escape their marriage. There’s something a little too satisfying in watching Kerri Russell trapped with this guy since, as the title character on Felicity, she mind-fucked so many male characters that a kind of vengeful equilibrium has been achieved by this film.

Jenna works at Joe’s House of Pies (Joe is played by Andy Griffith), where she works with Becky (Cheryl Hines) and Dawn (played by the tragically deceased Adrienne Shelly who also wrote and directed the film). Jenna’s one gift in life is a talent for making amazing looking pies that correspond to whatever mood she feels on a given day (“I don’t want Earl’s baby pie”). It’s the most delicious looking sublimation I’ve ever seen on screen, and the cinematographer lavishes so much attention on the pie preparation that it breaks my heart that the film wasn’t released in Smell-O-Vision, especially when we get to “I can’t have no affair because it’s wrong and I don’t want Earl to kill me pie … hold the banana.”

Anyway, plot-blah-blah, Becky has a secret, Dawn has self-image issues but manages to find a husband, Andy Griffith is wise, ancient, crotchety, secretive, and Jenna falls in love with her OBGYN, Dr. Pomatter (Nathan Fillion), eventually leaving her husband at the birth of the baby to go off on her own. For the length and breadth of the movie, Jenna is terrified at the prospect of motherhood, constantly facing visions of impending torture whenever she comes across one mother in particular with her brat of a son. I suppose I’d also find encounters like that intimidating, but the prospect of motherhood absolutely freaks Jenna out since she now perceives her life as completely ruined, stuck with Earl forever. Suspiciously, certain options are foreclosed to allow the plot to move along unimpeded, such as abortion which is shrugged off, as well as the possibility of just giving a bratty kid a benadryl so that the mom can go about her day — which is never broached.

I didn’t love this film as much as Dustin Rowles did, meaning this is one of the few occurrences when my opinion diverges from his. I think part of the problem is that Adrienne Shelly was channeling Hal Hartley (whose films I detest) in the script, so that the actors were often trying to say wise things to one another but aren’t actually playing wise people. Also, the characters’ little tics were a tad inhuman, like Dr. Pomatter who was making too much of an effort to play the dork. Finally, scenes were filmed claustrophobically, lending it a very American playhouse “Our Town” feeling. Everyone was so mid-western and the palette so mid-ranged — blond to light brunette (with few exceptions, such as Sisto) — that the cast began to combine into a dark blond colored mess, as if one was watching talking, walking, macaroni & cheese for two hours.
I think Cheryl Hines may have picked up on this and tried to make something of it in the DVD interview. She points out that for the film she had her hair colored and done up by her sister-in-law “since we wanted Becky to look like the kind of person whose hair was done up by her sister-in-law.” Hines is kind of a genius, and reportedly she’s been asked by Shelly’s husband to direct a script left behind when Shelly died. Since I felt that Hines was being held back in this film, and could have been more “on target” with her lines if she was simply allowed to do as usual and make them up as she goes along, I think a chance to direct the next movie will allow her to temper some of Shelly’s tendencies to cutesiness.

Re: cast interviews, someone also needs to warn Nathan Fillion that he has got to stop making such deeply sensitive comments about his films lest he risk being forever cast in Lifetime tee vee movie limbo. He played the nervous schmuck far too earnestly for this viewer’s taste. Fillion actually reminds me of an overenthusiastic barista from the nearby cafe, who always spends an extra ten minutes fussing over my cappuccino — making sure that every grain of coffee is perfectly ground and forms a perfect convex, and in the meantime tells me that by permitting him to use 2% milk I’m allowing him to practice his ‘art’ whereas the soy milk people don’t understand the ‘craft’ — but who then hands me the drink by thumping it down on the counter and shouting “16 oz cappuccino,” as if it’s at all appetizing or artful to know how much my fucking drink weighs! If you want to be a good actor, then just be a good actor and spare the audience the benefit of your deep insight.

What do I think of Waitress? I think it’s a fun time with faults that aren’t terribly alienating. I also think it’s sad that Adrienne Shelly was murdered. Not only was she adorable and talented, a new mother, but she would clearly have made some amazing films down the line. I also think that ‘Earl’ is an important cinematic creation, and though there are plenty of losers to choose from in the movies, few are creepy and familiar enough to start that spine tingling. If I hear from my spine at least once while watching a movie, then it’s worth recommending even with qualifications.

*He never actually had any reason to worry, even when I let him think he did. I loved that imbecile more than I think he was ever capable of understanding. What can I say? I’m a born codependent.


2 Responses to “Waitress, or Macaroni & Cheese Pie”

  1. Ali Says:

    Speaking of jealous, needy, codependent types, I had a friend in Minneapolis who explained to his then-girlfriend why they wouldn’t have children by saying “I’m not ready to have a child. I AM a child.” He was 29 at the time. She’s since had a child (not his).

  2. darknessatnoon Says:

    Was this ‘Minimum John,’ the guy who would always put out only the most minimum effort to get by in life?

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