Sunday, May 27, 2007

One charming 'Waitress'; more 'Yellow Roses'

A CHARACTER SPOUTS A LINE in a little-known 1974 film called "Lovin' Molly" that I like very much.

"A woman's love is like the morning dew," Mr. Fry says. "It's as apt to land on a cow turd as a rose."

That line flashed through my mind while watching "Waitress," the late Adrienne Shelly's quirky, charming new film. Because that's the only way one can explain why the otherwise smart Jenna (Keri Russell), the waitress of the title, would marry a guy like Earl (Jeremy Sisto).

Jenna is a server at a small-town diner. (Think "Alice.") She makes pies. Darn good pies. To escape reality, she imagines baking new pies. All sorts of pies.

Her life is all but hopeless. She adores her two co-workers (played to the hilt by writer/director Shelly and Cheryl Hines). She loves making pies.

But all that's for naught because of Earl.

Earl doesn't let Jenna drive a car. He "don't want her to go nowhere," you see.
He has this obnoxious habit of honking his horn repeatedly whenever he picks Jenna up. In fact, nearly everything Earl does is obnoxious.

Jenna wants money to enter a pie making contest. Earl says no. She stashes funds anyway, waiting for the moment to leave this nightmare.

Oh, but something happens. Earl gets Jenna drunk one night. Oops. She gets pregnant too.
She doesn't tell him; she still plans to leave. To be quite honest, Jenna doesn't even want the baby. But whaddya do?

You go see your OB/GYN, that's what. But she's semi-retired. In her stead is a newcomer, neurotic Dr. Pomatter (Nathan Fillion).

His nervous Yankee demeanor creeps Jenna out. Then she jumps in his arms and plants a big wet one on his lips.

And therein lies the rub of this charming little flick. In the caring eyes of Dr. Pomatter, Jenna glimpses a better life. He listens to her. He holds her -- "nothing more, nothing less," she later writes her unborn child -- for 20 minutes. He makes her smile for what must be the first time in years. It's the beginning of one unique affair.

If all this seems like a slinging hash version of "Bridges of Madison County," you're dead wrong. This movie is about finding one's self. It's about dreaming big dreams. It's also a bit wacky, in a delicious, Dixie-fied, Flannery O'Connor kind of way.

Russell, best known as the star of the short-lived coming of age TV drama "Felicity," comes into her own with this role. Her Jenna becomes a complete woman when the final credits roll. This should be Russell's career-making role.

Shelly and Hines light up the screen as Jenna's fellow hash, er, pie slingers. (I swear I kept waiting for Hines to yell "kiss my grits!")

And what to say about Andy Griffith? Playing the diner's crusty-but-soft elderly owner Old Joe, Griffith turns in his best motion picture performance since 1957's "A Face in the Crowd."

At its core, "Waitress" delivers an important message. I won't reveal what it is for fear of giving away Jenna's ultimate choice, but I'm certain it's the correct choice. You'll think so too.

Despite its charming, happy feel, "Waitress" is overshadowed by melancholy. Not for anything on-screen, but because Shelly, who wrote, directed and co-starred in this film, was murdered late last year. Knowing she isn't around to bask in the afterglow of well-deserved applause for this masterpiece is a true bummer.

But that's the only depressing thing about this flick. After the lights come up, "Waitress" is as delicious and as filling as, well, a freshly-baked slice of pie.

"Waitress" is now playing at Regal Downtown West and at select theaters everywhere. It is rated PG-13 for adult language and situations.

Late last year, I wrote about an obscure 1976 Johnny Mathis song called "Yellow Roses on her Gown."

Yesterday, I received an e-mail about the song from Pat Murphy. Pat lives in Toronto. He hosts an excellent radio show, "The Long Note," the last Sunday of each month on CKLN-FM 88.1 in that city.

The program normally features songs performed in the Celtic tradition. But tonight Pat stepped away from that format to present a playlist entitled "Obscurities," songs you've rarely -- if ever -- heard.

Highlights included a little-known 1973 Glen Campbell recording of "Sold American," Elvis's heartbreaking, brilliant 1974 tear-jerker "Loving Arms" and Daniel O'Donnell and Mary Duff's beautiful cover of Porter Waggoner and Dolly Parton's country classic "Making Plans."

Near the end of the show, Pat played Mathis's tale of a disintegrating marriage. He was also kind enough to mention our e-mail conversation about the song.

Check out this eclectic station on the Web at "The Long Note" airs Sunday nights at 8 p.m. (Eastern).

Thanks for sharing this wonderful piece of music with your listeners, Pat. It remains the most hauntingly beautiful lyric and arrangement I've ever heard.

"Yellow Roses On Her Gown" can be found on the 4 CD Johnny Mathis box set "A Personal Collection" and on the out-of-print 1976 Mathis album "Mahogany."

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Anonymous Joy Kennelly said...

Hi there, I just saw the film too and have to agree with you re: Earl.

I thought the movie was sweet and gentle throughout all of it. It was just what I needed because I've been sad today.

I was shocked to learn of the murder of the star and writer/director of the film. Really puts your own life in perspective doesn't it?

I blog about my take on life after viewing the film if you're curious. If not, no biggie. Just wanted to say hi and nice write-up.


2:17 AM  

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