I’ve got my blog, V has her poems, J has her sculptures and S has her paintings, but unhappily married Jenna (Keri Russell), the main character of Waitress, expresses her tumultuous emotions through her pies. Peeing on a pregnancy test wand in the bathroom of Joe’s Pie Diner leads to her "I Don't Want Earl's Baby Pie" and "Pregnant Miserable Self-Pitying Loser Pie." When she starts sucking face with her obstetrician, she is moved to create an "Earl Murders Me Because I'm Having an Affair Pie."
Three waitresses at the Diner are trying to bake their way out of southern working women’s poverty. Jenna is in an abusive relationship with Earl (Jeremy Sisto); Becky (Cheryl Hines) is more caretaker than wife to a disabled elder and she revels in the thrill of a forbidden affair; and Dawn (Adrienne Shelly, the writer and director) succumbs to the relentless devotion of a dippy dweeb who speaks in mortifying spontaneous verse.
But Jenna is no full-time punching bag for her ass of a husband: she is full of cheeky wit and buoyancy at work, charming the owner Old Joe (Andy Griffith) with her refusal to be intimidated. Her resilient interactions with the world makes her domestic compliance in the face of her husband’s threats all that more discombobulating.
Not that Earl is a simple bad guy. He’s got a mixture of pathos and desperation that serves to give depth to his boorish repulsiveness. In the end, Jenna falls in love with her child, gets a helping hand towards independence and walks into the sunset with her now toddler daughter, poignantly played by Shelly’s real-life daughter Sophie.
Why poignant? Because just days before this film was accepted by Sundance, Adrienne Shelly was murdered after an argument over noise with a construction worker in the apartment below the office where she wrote. He strung her up on her shower-rod so that her death, at 40, was originally dubbed a suicide by the police.
So Adrienne Shelly’s industry triumph with this film about a woman cooking her way out of male violence is overshadowed by her own murder at the hands of a 19 year-old who is reported to have nothing more to say for himself beyond, "I was having a bad day. I didn't mean to kill her. But I did kill her."