Gender Politics Pie: An Analysis of the film “Waitress”

The film Waitress (2007) was written and directed by Adrienne Shelly; a strong advocate for women’s rights.

Adrienne wrote the script about her own feelings at eight months pregnant. Society paints it as a time for joy and excitement; however, she mostly felt afraid and guilty. She wanted to shed light on the unspoken apprehension that comes as a parent-to-be.

Photo by Social Thoughts

The plot focuses around a woman named Jenna (Keri Russell), a waitress at Joe’s Diner with a special talent for making unique pies; unfortunately, she’s married to an abusive man named Earl. The pies she creates are metaphors for what is currently happening in her life.

The story begins in the bathroom of Joe’s Diner. Jenna is awaiting the results of a home pregnancy test with her friends, Dawn and Becky. She explains that Earl had manipulated her into getting drunk, which was the only reason Jenna had sex with him. After the test is positive, her reaction is not what one would assume of an expecting mother; she is terrified. Jenna keeps it a secret from most people. To her dismay, those she does tell congratulate her.

Not everyone want to be a mama, Dawn. That don’t make me a bad person.

Keri Russell as Jenna

At his core, Earl (Jeremy Sisto) is insecure. Rather than facing himself and dealing with his issues, he projects onto Jenna through abuse. He has been cleverly making Jenna give him all of the income she earns from waitressing, so that she can’t run away. Of all the horrible things he does to his wife, this is most telling. He never vocalizes it, but this choice makes it clear that he knows he’s guilty of treating Jenna horribly. When he finds out that she’s pregnant, he is excited, but terrified for completely different reasons than Jenna. He is so desperate for control that he doesn’t want her to love the baby more than him and makes Jenna promise that she won’t.

Hey. You remember what I said – don’t you go lovin’ that baby too much.

Jeremy Sisto as Earl

Dr. Jim Pomatter (Nathan Fillion) is Jenna’s married OBGYN. Jenna reminds him of someone from his past who caught his eye at a young age. Although he is in a healthy marriage, he falls for Jenna. He sympathizes with her abusive home life and wants to help her to escape. They both experience guilt over their affair.

Well, I’m off to St. Mary’s… to deliver a baby… because that’s what I do.

Nathan Fillion as Dr. Pomatter

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. While her own husband is not abusive, he’s old and generally unpleasant to be around. Their marriage is dead. Her friends and job provide breaks from reality. Eventually, 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 as Jenna, only she doesn’t apologize for it. After Jenna finds out about the affair, it changes the way she sees her own because she admires Becky so much.

I’m having me a little adventure after many years of lots of nothing.

Cheryl Hines as Becky

Cal (Lew Temple) has power as a manager, bossing the women 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, worrying about his reaction, she is surprised to hear that he isn’t upset about it. He only cares that she can do her job. Even if it isn’t put in the nicest way, the fact that he doesn’t cause a scene puts him in a better light than Earl. Later, after Jenna learns about Becky’s affair with him, she asks him if he’s happy. He tells her that he accepts whatever happiness he can find. That ultimately helps Jenna’s perspective on what she’s doing with Dr. Pomatter.

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.

Lew Temple as Cal

Dawn (Adrienne Shelly) has been unlucky in love. After a long time of being single, she goes on a date with a guy named Ogie. He is head over heels for her, but she is completely put off by him. After expressing exactly how she feels and seeing how hurt it makes him to be rejected, she regrets being so harsh. She is able to appreciate how well he treats her.

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.

Adrienne Shelly as Dawn

Ogie (Eddie Jemison) has an intensity that comes off as creepy; fortunately, it turns out that he wears his heart on his sleeve and genuinely cares about Dawn. He is a hopeless romantic to the extent that he writes spontaneous poetry. Usually, when men are so forthcoming about their emotions, they are seen as weak; however, it is this very part of his character that wins Dawn over.

If I had a penny for everything I love about you, I would have many pennies.

Eddie Jamison as Ogie

Domestic abuse is a topic that I cover a lot in my writing. My own experiences as a survivor have opened to my eyes to how difficult it is. Over the years, I have read comments on my posts by those who appear not to have personal experience or outside knowledge of how the dynamic works. To them, it would appear that the solution in this fictional tale is simple: Jenna gets divorced; unfortunately, like abusers in real life, Earl has made sure that can’t happen. Without money, Jenna cannot afford anything of her own.

Throughout the film, Jenna attempts to make or save money under Earl’s nose, but it always fails. First, she tries to take a bus to a pie contest in which the winner receives a large sum of cash; unfortunately, Earl finds her at the bus stop and brings her home. Second, she has been hiding money all over the house, hoping Earl won’t suspect; unfortunately, he finds it and threatens her. Like an experienced survivor, she is quick on her feet. She claims that she was saving it to surprise him with things for the baby in an attempt to convince him that it wasn’t to leave. He takes the money and buys baby supplies, as well as spends it however he pleases, leaving her with nothing, again. All seems lost.

Old 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 his waitress. She knows that he isn’t as bad as he behaves. He tips her better than any other customer. With every visit to the diner, their relationship evolves into a meaningful friendship. He becomes one of the only people who acknowledges to Jenna how incredible a person she is because of her character and pie making talent.

This life will kill you. I’m saying…make the right choice. Start fresh. It’s never too late. Start fresh.

Andy Griffith as Old Joe

Unexpectedly, the birth of her daughter psychologically prepares Jenna to stand up to Earl and leave him. Dawn has Jenna stay with her and Ogie, after she gets out of the hospital. Finally, Jenna is able to financially escape Earl and start her own pie shop business because Joe gives her a large check, as a new life gift.

See what I did there? The baby is a literal new life; Jenna has a new life after Earl. Maybe, Adrienne meant it that way, too.

Domestic abuse can be impossible to survive. Targets can only do their best to handle each attack their abuser throws at them, whether physical, emotional, or psychological. The film explores the complexity of this still taboo subject. While its ending is not entirely realistic, it is needed for anyone struggling to break free.

On November 1st 2006, Adrienne Shelly caught a construction worker stealing money from her purse. The worker brutally murdered Adrienne in her home. Her legacy has been entwined with ending violence against women, not only because of her film, but because of what happened to her.

Her husband, Andrew Ostroy created the Adrienne Shelly Foundation in memory of her life. It provides financial assistance to other women filmmakers to reach their potential. While her death was tragic, this film enhances her message about motherhood, the message about the importance of women filmmakers, and the message that violence against women demands our attention.

Note: This is a revision of this author’s original work in 2015 on HubPages.

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