Working Mom Waitress

Liberation. Via pies and motherhood. Seems like an incongruous mix. But in the luminous film "Waitress,"  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 -- 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.


This is a fantastic movie. That darling song about momma making pies is stuck in my head.