“She Who Must Not Be Named” and I went to the movies yesterday. A couple of weeks ago “She” had accompanied me to see “28 Weeks Later” and hadn’t complained too much, so we figured I owed her a chick flick in return. That’s how we got to see “Waitress.”
This quirky feminist comedy [yawn] is one of the highest-rated films of the year. Critics have fallen in love with it and with Jenna, the character played by Keri Russell, and particularly with the late Adrienne Shelly, the film’s writer/director and supporting actress. I had a different reaction – Jenna and Adrienne scared the Hell out of me.
Jenna has a problem. His name is Earl, played by Jeremy Sisto, and she’s married to him. Early on the film establishes that Earl is a stereotypical insecure, violent, sexist, dumb, controlling poor southern white guy. By contrast, Jenna is beautiful, bright, irresistibly sexy, a culinary genius [she makes really, really good pies], and generally wonderful. Well, we don’t actually get to see her being all that wonderful, [she’s really pretty whiny, self-absorbed, and at times downright creepy] but the supporting characters keep telling us how amazingly wonderful she is.
One wonders how the beautiful, wonderful Jenna and southern white guy stereotype Earl ever got together. The script suggests that it was because he has really good hair and explains that he “changed” after marriage. The viewer is left to wonder if maybe wonderful Jenna had something to do with that change. We are supposed to see Earl as a fearsome and evil figure who terrorizes Jenna into abject submission, but in fact he is an insecure man, dominated emotionally by Jenna, who is reduced to abject begging for sex, for companionship, for even a kind word from his openly contemptuous and maddeningly passive/aggressive [but supposedly wonderful] wife. What is more, this has been going on for years, during which Jenna has supposedly been trying to accumulate enough money to leave him. But that’s just an excuse. She clearly has sufficient money to make her escape and the ability to support herself in a new town, but she stays with Earl, presumably because she’s having too much fun basking in the sympathy of her co-workers and making him miserable.
Of course there has to be a crisis to shake things up and it comes when Jenna discovers that she is pregnant. A couple of months before Earl had gotten her drunk and with her guard down she had allowed him to couple with her. Naturally, being so wonderful, Jenna simply regards the prospect of bringing a new life into the world with dismay – it’s Earl’s kid, you see. But she doesn’t believe in abortion [good thing, or there wouldn’t be much of a story] so she heads down to see the local ob-gyn. This introduces the second major plot element – Captain Mal Reynolds [well, actually, Nathan Fillion, who played Mal in Firefly and Serenity].
Fillion plays the new doctor in town [Dr. Pommater]. He’s young, handsome, well-educated, from the northeast -- a not Earl. He’s also a bit neurotic, unsure of himself, and attracted to his beautiful and wonderful patient which makes him a perfect victim for Jenna. She pounces, aggressively initiating an unethical and doubly-adulterous relationship with him. Soon he is madly in love with her and willing to leave his wife, his job, everything for her – simply because she is so darn wonderful, and her pies taste so very good.
This conforms to a major theme of the film – personal fulfillment through adultery. Not only do Jenna and Dr. Pommater [significantly, we and presumably Jenna too, never learn his first name] find joy and comfort in an illicit relationship. So, too, does her friend and co-worker, Becky (played by Cheryl Hinds). The only successful relationship is that of director Shelley’s character, Dawn, who publicly and viciously abuses the hapless “Ogie” (played by Eddie Jemison), her ardent suitor who keeps coming back again and again, presumably for more abuse.
There is one final character to mention – the folksy, cranky, quirky font of wisdom, played by Andy Griffith. He is the local rich guy. He’s old, he’s made a lot of mistakes in his life, he’s rich [owns most of the town, including the diner in which the wonderful Jenna works], and he is attracted to Jenna and her pies [in a fatherly way, you understand]. He tells her to dump Earl and to start a new life.
Eventually Jenna has the baby. It turns out to be a girl, not a dreaded boy-child. Jenna decides she can love it. She also discovers that Andy Griffith has bestowed on her a large sum of money, then has conveniently lapsed into a coma and died. With kid and money in hand Jenna has both her emotional and financial needs taken care of. She no longer needs any men in her life. She tells Earl to get lost, then dumps her Doctor lover [because continuing the affair would be unfair to his wife]. Then wonderful Jenna and her doting girlfriends embark together on a happy, independent and successful existence serving happy customers her wonderful pies in a diner she owns herself.
So this is what late-stage feminism has come to. Sorta sad, I think…, sad and scary. At least, though, abortion was off the table, something not to be seriously considered.