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(Left to right) Cheryl Hines, Keri Russell,
and Adrienne Shelly
Photo: Alan Markfield

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Directed & Written by: Adrienne Shelly.
Produced by: Michael Roiff.
Director of Photography: Matthew Irving.
Edited by: Annette Davey.
Music by: Andrew Hollander.
Released by: Fox Searchlight.
Country of Origin: USA. 104 min. PG-13 rating.
With: Keri Russell, Nathan Fillion, Cheryl Hines, Adrienne Shelly, Eddie Jemison, Jeremy Sisto & Andy Griffith.

A self-proclaimed “pie genius,” Jenna just wants to make pies, but she’s in a jam. She’s bitter that, in her words, “I don’t have one I love with, just one I live with,” a circumstance made worse because she’s got a bun in the oven, thanks to her insensitive husband getting her drunk. Keri Russell, as the titular Jenna, warmly switches with a flick of a whisk from honey to tart tongued, even if her back story is a bit fudged. Her Marshmallow Mermaid pie, let alone her Falling in Love Chocolate and Naughty Pumpkin pies, is a Proustian madeleine for her new ob-gyn, the married Dr. Pomatter. Nathan Fillion, cast against his usual smart aleck hero roles, is the plummy but floundering doctor who relishes more than her desserts. And for the first time in her life, Jenna gingerly learns that a lover can also be a best friend who actually listens to her.

But the centerpiece of what writer/director Adrienne Shelly serves is the delicious dialogue. Jenna wafts away when her life boils over by dreaming up new pies that are not just for the weekly blue plate specials where she works. For I Hate My Husband Pie, “You take bittersweet chocolate and don’t sweeten it. You make it into a pudding and drown it in caramel.” For Pregnant Miserable Self-Pitying Loser Pie, “Lumpy oatmeal with fruitcake mashed in. Flambé, of course.” The sensuality and resonance of her baking leavens into a lovely lesson with the doctor on how to make her mother’s favorite, Lonely Chicago Pie. As she glowingly relates the memories that the recipe arouses, their touching interplay creams the pottery-making scene in Ghost.

The tasty interchanges between Jenna and her waitress friends, Becky (Cheryl Hines, reheating saucy Flo from Alice Doesn’t Live Her Anymore) and Dawn (Shelly as a plain vanilla milquetoast), are more credible in how real women dish to each other than the male-written exaggerations in Sex and the City. Jenna’s imagined letters to her unborn baby mince no words about a pregnant woman’s percolating fears and resentments, as when she steams, “Dear damned baby, here’s your damned crib we bought with the money I was going to use to buy a new life.”

In a welcome return to the menu from TV guest snacks, Andy Griffith almost steals the show with a lot more spice than his Matlock. As the crusty owner of Joe’s Pie Diner (and much of the small town), he reads the lonely-hearts column for vinegary laughs, delightfully delivering pungent insights, recalling Alan Arkin’s grandfather in Little Miss Sunshine. The unnamed town, displayed in odd lighting, emphasizes that the film is more a fable than a slice of realism.

That a mostly male audience didn’t chuckle throughout may be a scent that this is less a date movie and more a feature for “Rattle and Roll” screenings. Or girlfriends, treat yourselves to this confection. And just try not to tear up at the semi-sweet closing scene with the late director’s toddler as Jenna’s child. Nora Lee Mandel
May 1, 2007



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