+ "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 (heâ€™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 makerâ€”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."
+ "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
Gordonâ€™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 â€” 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. Polleyâ€™s triumph is to have preserved, and enriched, the individuality that Ms. Munro breathes into her characters."