Monday, 29 October 2007

The movie Waitress seems more suited, to my mind, to monochrome. It celebrates a white-picket-fence, apple-pie, down-home America belied by the method of dying of writer/director/actor Adrienne Shelly, at the beginning of last November. "A 19-year-old Ecuadorian illegal immigrant and construction worker confessed to slaying the actress, who he left hanging by a bedsheet from a shower rod in the bathroom of her Manhattan office/apartment," says IMDB.

The presence of Andy Griffith as the slightly-cantankerous but good-hearted pie-shop owner, signals to an ethos Americans probably would like to believe they still possess. In actual fact, today's highly-heterogeneous world, where issues can become multi-faceted (not simply polarised), means this film celebrates past glories.

Yet the scene where a pregnant Jenna (Keri Russell) is in the kitchen with her lover, Dr Pometter (Nathan Fillion), cooking, dancing, singing...

Every old rock song could be said to derive from the song Jenna sings here, as she remembers how her mother would show her, a little girl, how to cook pies. It's the ur-anthem to a new life that also seems to be captured in Southern spirituals: singing a way out of heartache seems a way of life in the New World.

Of course, these popular songs made canonical in the American 'imagining' of themselves, first belonged to the British. But in England, in the 19th century and even in the early 20th, such songs were not privileged by the common-sensical utilitarianism epitomised in American culture.

The passage from the horror of a nasty husband (brilliantly played by Jeremy Sisto) into the arms of the Connecticut doctor, and finally, by way of a winning entry in a pie contest, to setting up her own shop with a new daughter -- this series of events is driven by a practical femininity and an earnest belief in herself.

Russell is both beautiful and strong-looking. It's a classical girl-from-next-door look, and it's distinctly Anglo. And it's not as if Earl set her up in a trashy trailer with a junked car in the front yard, either. The decor in their house is pure middle-class aspirational. But this outward respectability makes his detestable attitude even worse.

What Jenna finds in the arms (perhaps not the best word -- she's the one who first jumps his bones, after all) of the worthy Dr Pometter, whose patrician youthfulness promises plenty in several senses, is not love but a sense of her own worth. To be the object of desire is empowering. The less said about the good doctor's red-haired wife, the better.

The movie is, ultimately, a set-piece with an acute angle. There's less violence than possibly exists, in such cases, in real life. There's a deep sense of unease generated whenever Earl come down the road, tooting his fucking horn. There's a camerarderie within the slim confines of the pie shop. And there's a deep wisdom in Old Joe's scepticism, a stern practicality softened by memories of past romance.

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