Keri Russell, with her frizzed locks and clear angelic eyes, has a look of such pert vivacity that when you first see her in Waitress, it’s hard to imagine that she’s anything but happy. She plays Jenna, who works in a small-town Southern pie diner that’s just far enough off the main drag to seem like the last coffee shop on Earth. At this ramshackle pit stop, Jenna has her work family — her sister waitresses, plus the grouch of a cook — and she follows her bliss by creating new pies, each inspired by a different incident (”I Hate My Husband Pie,” and so on). We see the concoctions assembled in sped-up overhead shots, each recipe more luscious than the last. It turns out that the pies are a good deal sweeter than Jenna’s life.
Married to an angry, jealous control freak (Jeremy Sisto), Jenna has just learned that she’s pregnant, and she’s miserable about it — though in this deep-dish comedy of red-state blues, the possibility of terminating the pregnancy is never even discussed. Waitress understands what it is to be a woman trapped. Things start to look up when Jenna meets her new ob-gyn, Dr. Pomatter (Nathan Fillion), whose quizzically urgent manner and Bob Costas hair mark him as a white knight of graciousness. So she jumps his bones (even though he’s married too).
Waitress is a wee romantic charmer, a delectable Dixie screwball romp that never loses its spry sense of discovery. Written and directed by Adrienne Shelly, the New York actress and filmmaker who was tragically killed last year (she appears, along with Cheryl Hines, as one of Jenna’s waitress pals), the movie is always high-spirited, but it’s also wistful, sexy, and melancholy. It mixes flavors as brazenly as Jenna does in her traditional yet wild desserts. Russell, in a star performance, lets each new feeling shine through her skin — there’s a great sequence, scored to Cake’s ”Short Skirt/Long Jacket,” in which she beams her way through the diner after sex — but Waitress offers no easy resolution. What lifts the audience sky-high is the portrait of Jenna awakening, in every sense, to the life inside her. In what was, sadly, to be her last movie, Adrienne Shelly proved a filmmaker who will long be savored.