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The week’s critic wrangle: “Waitress,” “Away From Her.”

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+ "Waitress": What would have happened if Adrienne Shelly‘s final film were a stinker? Most likely, it would have managed only a negligible release, and most critics would have been able to avert their gaze and avoid trashing the work of the recently murdered. Fortunately, "Waitress" is good, or at least good enough, slender and sweet-natured enough to attract reviews ranging from glowing to ruefully approving. "Waitress is a wee romantic charmer, a delectable Dixie screwball romp that never loses its spry sense of discovery," writes Owen Gleiberman at Entertainment Weekly, adding that "the movie is always high-spirited, but it’s also wistful, sexy, and melancholy." A.O. Scott at the New York Times goes on:

It is not so much that Ms. Shelly has banished realism from her story, but rather that she has tamed and shaped it, finding a perfect, difficult-to-achieve balance of enchantment and plausibility. The story, in which resilience is rewarded, and meanness is banished, is comforting without feeling unduly sentimental, thanks to its mood of easygoing, tolerant honesty.

Scott also points out that the extramarital affair between Keri Russell‘s Jenna and Nathan Fillion‘s Dr. Pomatter is "a rare example of movie adultery (he’s married too) without punishment or apology, and it works because both actors are so darn likable."

Stephanie Zacharek at Salon allows that "it takes a while for this ultimately sweet little picture to find its footing: At first, it’s all a bit too sweet." Eventually, though "[t]he picture’s off-kilter rhythms ultimately keep it from being too treacly, and its spirit of optimistic negativity doesn’t hurt, either." Nathan Lee at the Village Voice has some elegantly phrased concerns about the film’s set up ("Could someone pass me the barf bucket?") but is pleasantly surprised: "Waitress makes palatable everything repellent about American independent movies of the Sundance smash type. There’s a fine line between crowd-pleaser and crime against cinema, and to my mind this guileless romcom largely stays the course." At the LA Weekly, Ella Taylor finds the film less memorable than the lurid real-life events that preceded its release, but does like how, "[w]ashed in a honeyed 1950s glow, Waitress has a mildly puckish way with outlandish baked goods and pert dialogue." At Slant, Ed Gonzalez is lukewarm on the film, but does writes that though "Predictably scripted, the film also impresses with its flurry of very funny one-liners and excellent performances, from Andy Griffith as Old Joe to Shelly herself as a waitress who works at the man’s pie diner."

"Because the movie is so hit-and-miss," muses David Edelstein at New York, "I kept getting thrown out of it and returning to thoughts of its maker—of what must have been her busy inner life, her evident joy in making movies, and her potential, down the road, to develop an authentic American voice and make wonderful screwball farces." Dana Stevens at Slate writes that:

Waitress is, by any reasonable standard, a fairly mediocre movie. But the two facts, that of Shelly’s death and of the movie’s release, are inextricable from one another; there’s no way to separate them from each other, and no reason to. When you watch Waitress, you’re also watching a meta-movie about Shelly’s brutal end, and the spirit that bursts from every corner of this overcrowded movie is so genuinely warm that trashing it feels like panning a so-so baton-twirling performance at the church talent show.

Keith Phipps at the Onion AV Club expresses similar sentiments: "It’s an imperfect film, but it’s the kind of imperfect film of which it would be nice to have seen Shelly make more."


The spark of life.+ "Away From Her": Actress Sarah Polley makes an unconventional directorial debut for a 20-something in this story of a marriage in its twilight (and Alzheimer’s-beset) years. Our thoughts from Sundance are here; the critics are universally fond, verging on ecstatic with regards to Julie Christie‘s performance and still-luminous beauty. "Polley’s got a devastating hook in her crystalline feature debut ‘Away from Her,’" writes Michael Koresky at indieWIRE. "[A]s Christie’s Alzheimer’s-afflicted Fiona slowly slips away from her husband Grant (Gordon Pinsent), she’s also gradually fading from us, viewers, lovers of her vivaciousness, her glamour that never overshadowed her wisdom." Armond White at the New York Press adds that "Away From Her expands from its tragic tearjerker basis to be a movie
about the complexity of love and passion and sacrifice. Fiona and
Gordon’s story is scaled for modest, realistic effect, but Christie
makes it fascinating, almost mythic."

At New York, David Edelstein sums the film up as "a twilight-of-life love story, one that harshly demolishes our romantic notions of love and loyalty, then replaces them with something deeper and, finally, more consoling." "With little camera movement or assertive music, Polley creates a portrait that might be dubbed Scenes From a Marriage‘s End (the bearded Grant even resembling Erland Josephson)," observes Nick Schager at Slant.

Tasha Robinson at the Onion AV Club likes the film but is less prone to "mostly, it’s a subdued, well-shot character study that observes rather than dictates emotions." Lisa Schwarzbaum at Entertainment Weekly has mild complaints about the adaptation, which expands on an Alice Munro short story: "The story now jigs forward and back, the nursing-home scenes have been expanded and quiver with somber concern, and Marian is quite another kind of woman off the page — someone softer, and more movie-friendly. Munro’s stark lily needed none of this gilding." A. O. Scott at the New York Times would disagree: "Ms. Polley’s triumph is to have preserved, and enriched, the individuality that Ms. Munro breathes into her characters."

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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