Gender Politics Pie: An Analysis of the film "Waitress"
Have you seen "Waitress?"
The film Waitress (2007) was written and directed by Adrienne Shelly who was always a strong advocate for women's rights, and ending violence against women. It is a story about seemingly hitting rock bottom, but coming out stronger. The script was inspired by Adrienne's own pregnancy, and fear of motherhood. As she says in an interview, she wanted to make a film about the unspoken anxiety that comes from the responsibility as a parent-to-be. Typically, it is perceived as a time for a woman to be filled with only joy and excitement, but it's more complicated in reality.
The film is about a waitress named Jenna (Keri Russell) who has a talent for making unique pies, but is married to the abusive Earl. Her self-invented pies are metaphores of what is going on in her life. When she learns she is pregnant, after Earl had gotten her drunk one night, she begins a path toward independence and self-assertion. Jenna's response to the pregnancy is not what one assumes. Society is used to celebrating pregnancy, and practically forcing pregnant women to be upbeat, but Jenna is both unhappy and terrified.
Jenna: Not everyone want to be a mama, Dawn. That don't make me a bad person.
I have read comments, by those who clearly have no personal experience or knowledge of how abusive relationships work, who think Jenna just has to get a divorce, but controlling relationships, especially those involving marriage and/or finance, is an extremely tricky situation.
The male characters in the film are in control of the women, either in a financial sense or through their status. Earl (Jeremy Sisto) has been cleverly making Jenna give him all of the income she earns from waitressing, so she can't run away. Without money, she cannot afford a divorce. Throughout the film, we see her come up with ways to make or save money under Earl's nose, but it fails. First, she tries to take a bus to a pie contest in which the winner receives a large sum of cash; unfortunately, he finds her at the bus stop. Second, she has been hiding money all over the house, so Earl won't suspect. When he finds out, and threatens her, she pretends she was saving it to surprise him with stuff for the baby, in attempt to convince him not to hurt her, further.
Earl: Hey. You remember what I said - don't you go lovin' that baby too much.
Jim Pomatter (Nathan Fillion) is Jenna's doctor; therefore, he is financially settled, but he's too nice for his own good, which is why he ends up falling in love with her. Even though they're both married, Dr. Pomatter is taken with her because she is so honest about her opinion of the pregnancy, yet it doesn't turn her into some sort of villain. He sympathizes with her abusive home life, and wants to help her to escape. They both experience guilt over their affair for similar reasons—the social expectation to fulfill the role as spouse, while both of their marriages have stopped being romantic.
Dr. Pomatter: I could find the whole meaning of life in those sad eyes.
Joe (Andy Griffith) is the owner of Joe's Diner. Becky and Dawn can't stand him, but Jenna knows how to handle him. As she points out, he isn't as bad as he behaves because he tips her better than any other customer. As their relationship develops, whenever he visits, he becomes one of the only people who acknowledges, to Jenna, how incredible a person she is because of her pie talent, and personality. The only way Jenna is finally able to escape Earl, without financial issues, is when Joe writes her a check of $270,450 as a baby gift. It is a combination of the birth of her daughter, which psychologically prepares her to stand up to Earl, and the money given to her by Joe, which allows her to afford to start over, that her character becomes entirely self-sufficient; therefore, Joe is not only financially stable, but generous enough to use his wealth to help others in need.
Old Joe: You're not just some little waitress.
Becky (Cheryl Hines) is one of the most out-spoken of the characters. She isn't afraid to offend anyone, but she cares deeply for her friends. Her husband isn't abusive, but she is stuck. He's too old and unpleasant for her to deal with. So, her friends and job are her escape. Eventually, even the boss, Cal becomes her distraction when they have an awkward affair, regardless of how much they hate each other. Becky is doing the same thing Jenna is, only she doesn't apologize for it. After Jenna finds out about the affair, it changes the way she sees her own because she looks up to her.
Becky: I'm having me a little adventure after many years of lots of nothing.
Cal (Lew Temple) has power as a manager. He bosses the waitresses around. On the other hand, in the few times Jenna has short but honest conversations with him, he turns out to be a decent person. When she tells him she's pregnant, she's worried about his reaction, but he isn't bothered by it. He just wants her to do her job as long as she possibly can. Even if it isn't put in the nicest way, the fact he doesn't cause a scene puts him in a better light than Earl. Second, after she learns he's having an affair with Becky, she asks him if he's happy. He tells her he accepts whatever happiness he can find, and is satisfied with it. That ultimately helps Jenna's perspective on what she's doing with Dr. Pomatter.
Cal: You ask a serious question, I'll give you a serious answer: Happy enough. I don't expect much. I don't get much, I don't give much. I generally enjoy whatever comes along. That's my answer for you, summed up for your feminine consideration. I'm happy enough.
Dawn (Adrienne Shelly) has been unlucky in love, and goes on a date with Ogie who turns out to be way below her expectations, but the man is head over heels. Dawn is forward with Ogie about her negative opinions of him, and ends up taking pity on him because of his raw emotional nature, realizing he may be a very good man, after all. Ogie's possessive side is not abusive; it's just passionate love, to the point of being cheesy; therefore, in the end, Dawn allows Ogie to be there for her rather than continue to be hard on herself, expecting everything to turn out exactly the way she thought.
Dawn: Listen to me. You make me sick! I think you're nothing but a crazy little freak, and I wish you would go away and die!...Oh, I'm sorry, hon.
Who is your favorite character?
Ogie (Eddie Jemison) is a flawed man; however, he is just as forward as Dawn about his feelings, which are full of love. Usually, being so forthcoming about emotions classifies a man as weak, but his confidence becomes his dominance and power. At first, it makes him undesirable and creepy, but over time it becomes charming because he doesn't do it for the sake of controlling another person. He does it because he is genuinely caring, and wants to love someone deeply without shame.
Ogie: [to Dawn] If I had a penny for everything I love about you, I would have many pennies.
Adrienne Shelly was murdered on November 1st 2006 by a construction worker who was caught stealing money from her purse. Her legacy has been entwined with ending violence against women because this type of event is exactly why the fight is still necessary. Her husband, Andrew Ostroy created the Adrienne Shelly Foundation in memory of her life, and to financially help other women filmmakers reach their potential. While her death was tragic, this film speaks to her message about motherhood, the message about the importance of women filmmakers, and the message of her murder that violence against women deserves our attention, not our denial.
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