Gender Roles – Women
Self-Esteem and Body Image
Language and Sexual Content
Room for Improvement:
Gender Roles – Men
Gender Roles - Women: 5 Stars
Jenna Hunterson is in a powerless position. Nearly every aspect of her life is monitored and controlled by her domineering husband. But in spite of the circumstances, Jenna has real plans to build a better life for herself. She’s a talented artist with pies and pastries, and knows that this is a skill she can put to work for her if she can just save up enough money to leave before her husband finds out. Waitress tackles the difficult subject of domestic violence in a way that highlights the financial and emotional barriers that often prevent women from walking away from controlling husbands. But even more surprisingly, this film tells its story without turning Jenna into something small and frightened that needs to be rescued. Jenna has a definite strength to her in spite of her circumstances. And while we may sympathize with her heartbreaking situation, we don’t pity her, so much as root for her.
Self-Esteem and Body Image: 3.5 Stars
Waitress spins a powerful and convincing love story around a pregnant woman with an abusive husband, which is no simple task. Jenna is certainly a beautiful person, but she comes with enough baggage to make her relatively undesirable to most men. Even given her drama ridden life however, and during a time when her body is swollen and unpredictable, Dr. Pommater sees the lovely person inside, risking his marriage and career for the chance to connect with her.
Plot: 4.5 Stars
Jenna might not come off as heroic in the most literal sense of the term, but there is definitely an element of bravery that is involved in attempting to escape the sort of situation that she’s in. She has to balance the risk of escalating violence against every small act of defiance. And the very real possibility of poverty and homelessness if she walks away without a concrete plan. Jenna meets every obstacle that comes her way with patience and determination. She also displays a fair amout of selflessness when it comes to the unborn child that she never wanted - and that she fears could derail her last chance at freedom, tying her to Earl forever. Her ability to persevere and to continue to hope for a better life is certainly its own form of heroism.
Character Development: 5 Stars
Throughout the film, Jenna transitions from being proud and sure of herself, to frightened and insecure, to resigned and hopeless. Though the film doesn’t completely explore how she met and fell in love with Earl, or found herself in the predicament that she’s in, it gives us just enough information to know that Earl wasn't always the monster that she goes home to every night. This simple background information should be enough to help more judgmental audiences forgive her for making the initial mistake of marrying him in the first place. Regardless of the undisclosed details, we see enough shifts in Jenna's mood and in her planning to understand how the relationship has worn her down. It’s still clear that there’s more to Jenna than a woman weakened and broken by a cruel man. There’s still something inside her that’s fighting for a way out, but that last ray of hope is in danger of being snuffed out, if she doesn’t leave soon.
Sadly, Waitress never explores or even explains Jenna’s decision to keep the baby, despite the problems a baby will cause her when she decides to leave Earl. There’s no mention of Jenna’s sense of religion, law or morality. Obviously, even a well-intentioned dialogue on such a controversial subject might have alienated audiences and overwhelmed the larger story. As is, the film does a fair service to women by simply exploring the fact that not all pregnancies are wanted pregnancies, and that not wanting to be a mother doesn’t have to destroy a woman’s character.
Love: 5 Stars (Spoilers)
Jenna’s relationship with Dr. Pommater is initially nothing more than a sexual affair. In time, however, the two begin to open up their hearts to one another. Waitress doesn’t reveal the content of these heartfelt conversations, but it does take the step of narrating to the audience their power and intimacy. In the end, we’re fairly convinced that Jenna and Dr. Pommater share something special and almost sacred. Jenna has found someone that she can pour out her soul to, and finally knows that her wounds and dreams matter to someone. There’s at least some small suggestion that this relationship helped Jenna build the resolve to finally walk away from Earl for good. Although the great climactic moment doesn’t come until she holds her daughter in her arms for the first time, it’s clear that Dr. Pommater’s influence helped her find a stronger sense of self.
Language and Sexual Content: 5 Stars
Waitress does an impressive job of depicting an abusive relationship without resorting to a string of demeaning words and phrases against women. In addition, the film briefly touches on the morality of extra-marital affairs without using the same abusive terminology. Despite the rough scenes between Earl and Jenna and a short and spurious confrontation over an exposed affair, no one is labeled with any vicious or degrading names.
The sexual encounters in Waitress all serve to give us a richer depiction of the characters involved. One scene depicts Jenna’s awful discomfort when surrendering to Earl’s advances, while others portray an empowered woman responding to the lust that she’s held at bay for far too long. In either case, Jenna’s sexuality is not a puerile display, but a fair treatment of both the pain and the joy that can result from a basic human instinct.
Family: 4 Stars
Waitress provides a wholly convincing portrayal of an unwanted pregnancy. Jenna is unashamed of her feelings, bluntly explaining to her friends and her doctor that not all women want to be mothers. Not all women look forward to every step of this grueling process. And that not everyone is bringing a baby into the world under the best circumstances. Audiences should sympathize with Jenna without judging her too harshly. Her disinterest in her baby doesn’t make her a less likeable character, and in many respects, makes her a very real character.
Gender Roles - Men: 2.5 Stars (Spoilers)
Dr. Pommater is a far more compassionate and respectful man than Jenna’s husband Earl. He’s clumsy and nervous and even a bit insecure at times, but more importantly, he listens to and genuinely respects Jenna. He believes her when she tells him that she isn’t happy about her pregnancy and never attempts to be the knight in shining armor that he knows he can’t be.
It’s true that, being her doctor, Dr. Pommater is also in a position of power over Jenna. But there are no indications that she feels weak or manipulated by him. It’s clear that her expressions of lust, and eventually love, are real human desires that she’s stifled after so many years of feeling unloved and powerless.
Unfortunately, we don’t know enough about Dr. Pommater, or his relationship with his wife, to fully understand his indiscretions with Jenna - but his intentions seem pure. And in the end, it is Jenna that makes the decision to end their affair, leaving him bereft and broken-hearted.
Friendship: 3 Stars
Jenna seems to have a close relationship with the other waitresses at the pie shop, Becky and Dawn. Even if their conversations are frequently focused on their bodies and relationships with men, they’re also intimately familiar with each other’s heartaches. It’s somewhat disheartening that neither Becky nor Dawn offers Jenna a place to stay and get away from Earl until she finds herself a single mother without a home. This dismal fact is more a reflection of reality, however, than the depth of these women’s friendship. Bystanders are generally disinclined to intervene in situations of domestic violence until the victim finally walks away of their own free will. Whether this is some disturbing social norm or a practical response to an unpredictable situation will vary from case to case. But in the circumstances played out in Waitress, it’s encouraging to see that Jenna finally makes the break on her own, and that her friends are there to take her in the moment she’s ready to move on.