Netflux: Waitress

This review will have spoilers! So, if you haven’t seen the movie Waitress, and you plan on seeing it, don’t read this review. In fact, if you haven’t seen it, go see it, and then come back and read it.

This movie was recommended to me by a good friend whose opinion I respect a lot, so I came at it with a little higher hopes and a little bit more of a critical eye than usual. I’m trying not to talk about it with her until I’ve finished the review so as not to be corrupted by alien viewpoints!

This film is one of the triumvirate of recent “I’m having this baby” films, the others being Juno and Knocked Up. While all three have their comedic elements, this is the most earnest, poignant, and realistic. These are among the few films this year that pass the Bechdel rule: the movie has a conversation between two women who are talking about something other than a man. This is a good thing.

The movie centers around Jenna, who is a waitress and pie-maker in a “pie diner” somewhere in the South. She is stuck in a marriage to a terrible guy who doesn’t let her have any freedom whatsoever and treats her like his property. She feels very trapped in her life, and then she finds out she’s pregnant. Undeterred, she redoubles her efforts to escape from her husband and also starts an affair with her obstetrician. Things come to a head when she has the baby, and she decides to leave her husband, end her affair, and meet her new baby all at the same time. The owner of the diner, who she has befriended while waitressing for him, gives her a gift big enough to start her life anew.

There are many praiseworthy aspects of the film. The performances are excellent. Captain Hammer himself, Nathan FIllion, plays the obstetrician with a cute nervous formality that I identified with strongly. Adrienne Shelly, the film-maker, plays an equally cutely nervous single girl looking for Mr. Right. Andy Griffith at 80 gives the best performance I’ve seen from him.

I don’t know how qualified I am to speak on it, but the movie seems to come from a very feminine perspective: it touches on the kinds of lives women lead, how they are sometimes treated, and what choices they are sometimes forced to make. Any (good) movie about pregnancy will have these themes but this one goes far beyond those aspects into all the realms of its characters personal lives. Work, marriage, money, psychology are all addressed without pulling any punches, which makes for very good drama.

An interesting artistic choice made by the filmmakers was that in a few very key moments in the film, the camera settles on Jenna, bringing her into focus putting everything else into the background. The key scene, where she delivers her baby, has the secondary characters (mainly her lover and her husband) literally blurred out of existence and focuses solely on the profound emotional experience of giving birth.

While the above three aspects (fulfilling the Bechdel rule, exploring all aspects of life, and focusing on the main character while blurring the secondary (male) characters) all give the movie feminist credibility, I felt there was one thing that rolled it back. In the end, Jenna had decided to run away with her doctor so that she could finally escape. When Joe (a man) gives her the gift of a great deal of money, she decides not to. This implies, to me at least, that she was planning on running away with him because of monetary reasons, not for another reason (such as love). The fact that she was dependent on all three men in the film in some way undermined the idea that she has the power to determine her own life. There are mitigating factors in both of these cases (she didn’t go with him because she met his wife, she could have obtained the money herself by entering a pie-making contest), but I think the idea still stands.

Just because a film is feminist and has good performances doesn’t make it necessarily good. But this one was, and I would fully recommend you see it (though you shouldn’t have read all these spoilers if you haven’t yet). I’m going to give it 4 stars on my Netflix account right now.

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