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Alice Still Doesn't Live Here Anymore

"Waitress" reminds you of a Scorsese film, warmed over.


If you're fond of listening to sweet, gregarious people without much interesting to say and were living on an isolated island somewhere during the '70s and '80s when "Alice" was in prime-time, you might find "Waitress" charming.

It involves a waitress (Keri Russell) who works at a diner with a cranky, pushy chef, a brassy co-worker who doesn't take any guff and another who's very shy and quirky. If you weren't on an island, this setup might remind you of Martin Scorsese's "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore" or "Alice," the TV spinoff.

"Waitress" adds an abusively dimwitted and self-centered husband (Jeremy Sisto) for the heroine to escape from and a young doctor (Nathan Fillion) for her to escape to. There's also a randy geezer (Andy Griffith) on hand to dispense folksy aphorisms. These slight differences, you'll find, hardly justified a remake.

The movie is about the troubles of small-town girl Jenna (Russell), oppressed by her oafish husband, Earl, whenever she's not at work at the local diner tending to customers and an unlikely menu of 27 varieties of pie. The new young doctor gives Jenna a sense of hope or, if not that, at least a few tussles on the gurney. There are a few subplots meandering around, but the abusive husband and resulting affair is the central preoccupation and a good indication of the rest of the movie's logic.

Jenna's doctor/beau is her gynecologist. He's also married. He seems to like his wife. No reason is given why he would hop in the sack with Jenna, except that she's a woman in need. (Well, after all, the good doctor did take an oath.) Writer-director Adrienne Shelly, who plays Jenna's nerdy, bespectacled friend Dawn, never addresses any of these incongruities. You're left to assume she didn't notice them, perhaps being too busy trying to stuff bits of comic fluff here and there.

Part of the comedy involves pies. Jenna's friends call her a "pie genius." The pies she dreams up often spring from her life experiences. Overhead shots show them being made as Jenna announces the name and ingredients. You could make up any example. Good Natured, Means Well, But Derivative Movie Pie: chocolate, blueberries, graham-cracker crumbs and cinnamon. In the movie, it's supposed to be funny, but since the link between the ingredients and the name is always iffy at best, the most generous evaluation would call it cute. That's about as generous as you can be all around. (PG-13) 107 min. S

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