(director: Adrienne Shelly; cinematographer: Matthew Irving; editor: Annette Davey; music: Andrew Hollander; cast: Keri Russell (Jenna), Nathan Fillion (Dr. Jim Pomatter), Cheryl Hines (Becky), Adrienne Shelly (Dawn), Eddie Jemison (Ogie), Lew Temple (Cal), Jeremy Sisto (Earl), Andy Griffith (Old Joe), Sarah Hunley (Dr. Lily Mueller), Darby Stanchfield (Francine Pomatter); Runtime: 104; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producer: Michael Roiff; Fox Searchlight Pictures; 2007)

“Tells about bad marriages and life disappointments.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The late Adrienne Shelly, who was killed in a brutal murder after complaining to a construction worker about the noise he was making in the office below, is best known as an actress from Hal Hartley films (especially Trust and The Unbelievable Truth). The 40-year-old actress-turned-filmmaker serves up a bittersweet slice of life romantic comedy, that blends comedy and drama. It’s a sitcom chick flick (reminding one of the long-running sitcom “Alice”); it tells about bad marriages and life disappointments. The film’s heroine is a “genius pie maker” named Jenna (Keri Russell), a waitress in Joe’s Diner–located in a small fictional Southern town called Redhook. She’s trapped in a loveless marriage to the domineering and brutish Earl (Jeremy Sisto), a piggish guy she fears who is obsessed with her and won’t let her be free. When Jenna discovers she’s pregnant, she bakes a “I Don’t Want Earl’s Baby” pie. Jenna names all her original pies after events in her life.

Jenna’s life is miserable, except for the happiness she gets in baking pies. Her diner boss is the grouchy Cal (Lew Temple), who doesn’t ever have it in him to dispense with even a kind word to any of the workers. The owner of the diner is a gruff old man, Joe (Andy Griffith), who demands complete attention when he comes in for pies and seems to only get along with Jenna. Her waitress coworkers are the unhappy single and mousy Dawn (Adrienne Shelly) and the wisecracking but unhappily married to an invalid Becky (Cheryl Hines).

The unwanted pregnancy radically changes Jenna’s life. Her long-time regular doctor Dr. Lily Mueller has slowed down her practice in preparations to retire and her replacement is the male obstetrician Dr. Jim Pomatter (Nathan Fillion); he’s a hunky new arrival from Connecticut, who gets off to an awkward start with Jenna. But soon the two marrieds are involved in a relationship that makes her life more bearable. The film develops the uninteresting subplots of Dawn first rejecting an obnoxious date (Eddie Jemison) and then giving in to his persistance in pursuing her, and eventually marrying him. Becky, in the meantime, finds temporary happiness by having an affair with someone her coworkers are shocked she would pick.

It all leads to the birth of the baby girl, and with Jenna finally coming to her senses. She gets her life in order by dealing with Earl as she should have from the beginning, giving the baby a proper mother’s love and making the best of her life by finding through an unexpected source the means to open her own diner. Though Russell gives a credible performance and there are a few brilliantly conceived moments and it all works out realistically fine, the simplistic lessons on life doled out failed to make an impact on me. Maybe I’m just even more cranky than Andy Griffith’s character, but I’ve seen this sort of woman’s fantasy pic handled in the same predictable way by Hollywood many times before to feel I’m taking a bite into something that creative or inspiring.

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