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Published on Mommy Tracked (http://www.mommytracked.com)

Working Mom Waitress

Liberation. Via pies and motherhood. Seems like an incongruous mix. But in the luminous film "Waitress [1],"  they blend together quite well.

Here’s the movie’s premise: An amazingly talented yet dirt-poor "pie genius"/waitress named Jenna (Keri Russell) is trapped in a loveless marriage to an abusive and hyper-controlling husband Earl (Jeremy Sisto), from whom she’s hiding a small stash of money so she can someday leave him. She’s horrified to discover that she’s pregnant, courtesy of a single encounter when her spouse got her drunk and took advantage of her.

Throughout the film, writer/director/star -- the late Adrienne Shelly -- has Jenna struggle with an invisible yoke that’s slowly tightening around her neck, strangling her. Unlike the way in which shiny, happy pregnancy books and web sites portray gestating women as glowing with cheerfulness, Jenna is starkly unhappy and explicitly tells people not to congratulate her. She looks upon a pregnancy/baby book given to her by fellow waitresses (Shelly and Cheryl Hines), with contempt. When she’s urged to write letters to her unborn baby in the book, Jenna exquisitely and boldly reveals her angst and ambivalence about becoming a mother, things many women might feel but often don’t express for fear of being labeled as a bad mom-to-be. Certainly you don’t see articles entitled, "What to Do When You Feel Like Your Baby is Curse" making the rounds in the parenting media.

To make matters worse, Jenna’s encounters with a mother-son duo around town do nothing to assuage her fears that parenting is just another soul-sucking trap. The kid’s a brat. He torments his mother. Doesn’t listen to her. Disrespects her. His mother seems like his servant. They never tell you how hard it is, the defeated mom tells Jenna as the silly string her son shot at her falls around her hair and shoulders. And Jenna feels her throat constrict a bit more. Often referring to her unborn child as the "damn baby," the self-described "anti-mother" even contemplates how much money she could get if she sold the baby and used the proceeds to leave Earl and open up her own pie shop.

Pies.

Pies -- like "I Don’t Want Earl’s Baby Pie" and "Pregnant Miserable Self-Pitying Loser Pie" -- are key to this flick, as they represent both Jenna’s emotional state at the time, as well as her relationship with her beloved mother, who used to sing a song to Jenna about making pies with a heart in the middle while teaching her daughter how to bake. Jenna can’t imagine feeling that way about her own child as she feels so empty. She’s just trapped, trapped by her poverty and trapped by her possessive spouse who not only makes her swear not to love the baby more than him, but forbids her from entering a pie contest (the prize is $25,000) so she can stay home and take care of him instead.

As the film progresses, Jenna commences an affair with her new, very married ob/gyn. And it stirs up feelings within her, feelings of being valued as a person, of being precious, of . . . dare Jenna say it . . . actual happiness.

During the climatic birth scene, all signs point to Jenna giving up her baby and running away with her lover. Within minutes of giving birth, Jenna begrudgingly agrees to hold her daughter. And, in that moment Jenna is unexpectedly reborn. Becoming a mother immediately gives her the courage to liberate herself and to tell her husband she’s leaving him. With no money, just her daughter in her arms, Jenna is emancipated, vibrant and confident. A new woman.

The remainder of the film swerves into fairy tale terrain. Jenna is given a chunk of money from Joe, the owner of the pie diner at which she worked, who saw something special hiding beneath her cloak of misery. Jenna enters and wins the pie contest. She buys the diner and remakes it into a brightly colored, cheery place, and names it after Lulu. The clincher scene: Jenna and Lulu -- in matching yellow waitress uniforms and crisp white aprons -- make a pie together as Jenna sings the song her mother sang to her. The one about the pies with the heart in the middle.

A more realistic conclusion, one that would’ve better meshed with the rest of the film’s funny and bittersweet tone, would’ve been for Jenna and Lulu to face the world together, penniless, either that or have them seeking refuge with one of Jenna’s friends until she could establish herself. Women who are held hostage by their spouses, finances and parental responsibilities don’t typically have wealthy benefactors waiting in the wings.

The way "Waitress" creator Shelly, who wrote the screenplay when she was eight months pregnant with her daughter, saw the film was as "a love letter to my baby." Shelly said she wanted the film to speak to the anxieties she and others feel over what will happen to their identities once they become mothers. "The actual fear of how your life is going to change, which is large in a lot of women, is not spoken about; it’s sacrilege," she said in a Fox Searchlight [2] video  on the "Waitress" web site.

The film’s ending, in which Jenna’s love for Lulu frees her soul, is a sweet one. And even if Jenna hadn’t received Joe’s money or created her own pie shop, using Jenna’s love for Lulu as a catalyst to transform her life and pursue her dream is well worth the price of admission. You can be a happy, loving mom and still pursue your dreams. What an inspiring message.


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