Waitress

waitress keri russell with babyFunny, touching, tough: three words that truly describe this vastly underrated 2007 comedy-drama, written and directed by the late Adrienne Shelly.

Jenna (Keri Russell) is an amazing pie-maker in some unnamed southern town. She works at Joe’s Pie Diner with her friends, Becky (Cheryl Hines) and Dawn (Adrienne Shelly), under the management of Cal (Lew Temple) and the ownership of Joe (Andy Griffith).  She’s married to a domineering redneck man named Earl (Jeremy Sisto), who takes all of her tip money and bullies her relentlessly, but she’s been hiding away some of the money and she hopes to enter a pie contest where the prize is $25,000–with the intention of leaving him as soon as she can.  This plan gets derailed at the very beginning of the movie when she discovers she’s pregnant.

waitress I don't want earl's baby pieThis brings on the inspiration for her to make tomorrow’s featured pie, the “I Don’t Want Earl’s Baby Pie.” Dawn remarks that she shouldn’t probably write that on the menu board, so Jenna changes the name to the “Bad Baby Pie,” a quiche with Brie cheese and a smoked ham center.

waitress I hate my husband pieShe considers making an “I Hate My Husband Pie” made of bittersweet chocolate–unsweetened–made into a pudding and drowned in caramel. Deciding to keep the baby, she goes to see her doctor only to find that her gynecologist has gone into semi-retirement and most of her cases have been taken over by young, attractive Dr. Jim Pomatter (Nathan Fillion).  When he congratulates her, she tells him that she doesn’t really want the baby, but is having it anyway, so please don’t be all happy for her.  “It’s not a party.”

Her mother taught her to bake as a child, singing this little song (written by Adrienne Shelly):

Baby, don’t you cry, gonna make a pie
Gonna make a pie with a heart in the middle
Baby, don’t be blue, gonna make for you
Gonna make a pie with a heart in the middle
Gonna be a pie from heaven above
Gonna be filled with strawberry love
Baby, don’t you cry, gonna make a pie
Hold you forever in the middle of my heart.

waitress marshmallow-mermaid-pieEverything is about pie creation. She brings the doctor her “Marshmallow Mermaid Pie” that she created when she was nine years old.  She makes a “Falling In Love Pie” (chocolate mousse) for Dawn’s date, and she fantasizes about new pies night and day.  At one point, she considers making a “Baby Screaming Its Head Off in the Middle of the Night and Ruining My Life Pie” that would be a New York cheesecake brushed with brandy and topped with pecans and nutmeg.

waitress earl wants to kill me pie

“I Can’t Have An Affair Because It’s Wrong and I Don’t Want Earl to Kill Me Pie”

Finding Dr. Pomatter irresistible, she begins an affair with him and considers making an “Earl Murders Me ‘Cause I’m Having An Affair Pie” made with smashed blackberries and raspberries in a chocolate crust, but decides it would be better to make an “I Can’t Have An Affair Because It’s Wrong and I Don’t Want Earl to Kill Me Pie” with vanilla custard and banana–no–hold the banana. Among the other pies mentioned in the movie are the “Spanish Dancer Pie,” the “Naughty Pumpkin Pie,” the “Singing Tuna Casserole,” and “Jenna’s Special Strawberry Chocolate Oasis Pie.”

After she discovers that Becky is having an affair with Cal, she asks him, “Are you happy?” He answers, “I’m happy enough.  I don’t expect much, give much.  I don’t get much.  I generally enjoy whatever comes up.”  Dawn finds happiness with a little accountant named Ogie, but Earl continues to make Jenna’s life miserable, forcing her to have sex with him, slapping her around, and controlling her.  In fact, she conceives of the “Pregnant, Miserable Self-Pitying Loser Pie,” made of lumpy oatmeal with fruitcake mashed in and served flambé.

In spite of the comedy, the movie holds a very dark side. Earl, for example, though an ignorant bully, has unexpected depth.  He’s never really been loved and he depends on his control over Jenna to give meaning to his life.  Joe, the owner of the Pie Shop, is himself an old loser, but he advises Jenna to leave Earl and start all over.  “This life will kill you,” he says.  “Make the right choice.”

The script contains many unexpected depths and Shelly’s deft direction and control of the story arc keep the movie on point through its one hour and forty-eight minutes. Keri Russell is beautiful, with a big heart that makes you love and root for Jenna to find a way out of her mess.  Nathan Fillion is charming as the nervous, tender Dr. Pomatter.  Cheryl Hines and Adrienne Shelly are funny and poignant as her waitress friends and Andy Griffith is terrific as Joe–again providing unexpected depths.

But the pies are magnificent. Every pie in the movie looks absolutely beautiful and each one acts like a Greek chorus, providing commentary on the action.

waitress adrienne shellyUnfortunately, Adrienne Shelly did not live to see her movie appear at the Sundance Film Festival or to see its critical success. Three months before it was due to open, Shelly discovered a thief in her apartment.  The man panicked and killed her.  A foundation has since been established in her name to help young female filmmakers fulfill their dreams and you man contribute at The Adrienne Shelly Foundation.

Everyone should see this movie! It’s a film that can be seen over and over again with a kind of sensual culinary pleasure, with laughter and tears, and lots and lots of love.

Funny, touching, tough.

Chocolat

Chocolat VienneMost things that give enjoyment are not bad. In fact, most things in life that we enjoy are entirely without sin, even if they do induce sensual pleasure, such as, let us say, chocolate, that most wonderful of confections.

My review contains information about the story, so if you haven’t seen the movie, beware. Reading this review may spoil the ending for you!

It is 1959, in a French village surrounded by a wall and a river, barricaded from the world as if it hadn’t changed since the Renaissance. On a Sunday morning when everyone is at church, a woman, Vianne (Juliette Binoche), and her young daughter Anouk (Victoire Thivisol), trudge through the wind and snow to open a chocolaterie. Vianne is destined to wander from town to town, as her mother did, dispensing the joy of chocolate.  She carries her mother’s ashes with her and she knows that Anouk will also be destined for the same fate.

 The mayor, Comte Paul de Reynaud (Alfred Molina) finds it sinful to open such a business during Lent and he encourages the villagers to boycott it and their young priest, Pere Henri (Hugh O’Conor) to preach sermons against it.  When he discovers that Anouk is an illegitimate child and that Vianne will not attend mass, he becomes even more consumed with driving her out of business.  He has his own problems: his wife has gone to Italy and it looks like she isn’t coming back and he is also struggling with his own desires for food as he starves himself in his sorrow.

chocolat anoukIn order to coax the villagers to buy her chocolate, Vianne gives away free samples, winning over Guillaume Blerot (John Wood), an older man whose little dog Charlie likes the treats. Blerot pines after a WWI widow, Madame Audel (Leslie Caron) and he wins her over with little chocolate treats.  Vianne’s first real friend comes in the form of her landlady, Armande (Judi Dench), who also doesn’t go to church.  She is estranged from her daughter, Caroline (Carrie-Anne Moss), who works for the Comte and keeps her son, Luc (Aurélien Parent-Koenig), away from his grandmother. Vianne arranged for Luc to spend some time with Armande at the chocolaterie under the pretense of his drawing a portrait of her.  Vianne wins another friend when the owner of the café, Serge (Peter Stormare) beats his wife Josephine (Lena Olin) who runs to the chocolaterie for sanctuary.  She stays and becomes Vianne’s assistant.  The Comte attempts to force Serge to get himself together, making him abstain from alchohol, teaching him manners, sending him to catechism classes.

The town is thrown into chaos when a band of gypsies arrives by boat, docking along the river front. Led by a charismatic young man, Roux (Johnny Depp), the gypsies want nothing more than to trade, but the Comte forbids it and mounts a campaign to have the villagers boycott the gypsies.  Of course, Vianne is intrigued and makes friends with Roux.  When Serge assaults the chocolaterie in a drunken rage, breaking open the door, the women fight him off and Josephine knocks him out with a skillet. Roux volunteers to repair Vianne’s door and she agrees to hire him, thus breaking the boycott.  The Comte takes his fight with her to a new level as he tells all of the villagers that to consort with her is to consort with the devil and he makes Pere Henri do the same thing from the pulpit.

Vianne feels that the whole world is against her and considers leaving, but Armande requests that she throw her a party for her 70th birthday.  Vianne also has planned a Festival for Easter Sunday. Most of Vianne’s friends attend, including Luc and Roux, but dessert is to be served on Roux’s boat and they all retire there to dance and enjoy the evening.  Caroline comes in search of Luc, but when she sees him dancing with his grandmother, she doesn’t interfere.  However, Serge brings the Comte to see the party and the mayor tells him, “Something must be done.”  When the party winds down, a fire erupts on the boats.  Seeing the damage, Vianne decides that it is time to leave, so she packs, over Josephine’s pleas that she stay, and forces to Anouk to join her, but they fight and her mother’s ashes are spilled.  There is laughter and she looks into her kitchen to find Josephine leading the villagers in the preparation for the Easter Festival.  She abandons her plans to leave.

On the night before Easter, Serge confesses to the Comte that he started the boat fire because the Comte had told him that “something must be done.” In a fit of rage, the Comte banishes Serge from the village, then goes to pray, confessing that he is so starved and so weak of spirit that he must do something.  Taking up a knife, he breaks into the chocolaterie to destroy the confections in the window display, but a bit of chocolate splashes onto his lip and he licks it up. In one moment, he loses his composure and begins to eat every bit of chocolate he can get his hands on.  The next morning, Pere Henri sees the mayor passed out in the window display, covered in chocolate.

It’s hard to imagine anyone crusty enough not to love Chocolat.  It is a wonderful movie, beautifully and movingly directed by Lasse Hallström, the Swedish director who also gave us The Cider House Rules (and, by the way, Lena Olin’s husband).  The music by Rachel Portman, part gypsy, part Hispanic, part French, is absolutely perfect for every scene in the film.  Adapted by screenwriter Robert Nelson Jacobs from the novel by Joanne Harris, the story is strong and true, moving, funny, and uplifting.

All of the actors are wonderful and it would be hard to single out one performance that stands out above the other, but I must mention that Judi Dench is amazing as Armande and that Johnny Depp’s guitar adds a great deal to the fun. Binoche is lovely as Vianne and it is good to see her teamed with Lena Olin, the first time the two women have worked together since The Unbearable Lightness of Being.

This is an incandescent story of freedom. No matter how firm oppression may seem, if you are good and true and give love back to the world, the world will eventually come to you.