Writer/director/supporting actress Adrienne Shelly goes for something intimate and empowering—the bright, cheery, wholesome Southern woman, imprisoned by gender and class, casting off the shackles of wage-slavery and an abusive relationship. But Shelly, a lifelong New Yorker, gets the details all wrong; watching this movie is like listening to an out-of-tune piano, with cringes at every clanging note.
In fact, Shelly’s film isn’t just tone deaf—it’s unintentionally condescending to its characters. It plays like a parody of a Deep South short story. No less a figure than Andy Griffith plays a codger named “Old Joe,” the diner owner who’s gruff with the waitresses, but dispenses homespun wisdom. What’s worse, Griffith, who hasn’t appeared onscreen since 2001, looks bloated with bloodshot eyes, almost like they dragged him out of the nursing home to give Mayberry authority to lines like, “Are you with child…I’ve seen that look on a woman’s face before.” Again, if this film were supposed to be a joke, this casting would be hilarious satire.
The diner itself looks more like a Cracker Barrel than an authentic diner, but more bothersome than the art design is the characterization. Jenna’s abusive husband (Jeremy Sisto) isn’t just childishly self-centered—he’s dialogue is so tone-deaf that he’s awkwardly, broadly self-centered. “Hey. You remember what I said - don't you go lovin' that baby too much,” is not the reaction of an emotionally-stunted man-child. Even a man-child is outwardly self-less, even if on the inside he’s still all about himself. Rather, this is a line composed by a writer who doesn’t know how to convey this complexity. Here’s all you need to know about why Adrienne Shelley’s movie is one of the worst-written movies of the year: The doctor’s name is “Pomatter,” an homage to the New York Yankees’ Jorge Posada, Don Mattingly, and Derek Jeter. Not only doesn’t the name make sense, I can’t for the life of me figure out why these two are attracted to each other, except that he “finds the meaning of life in those sad eyes.”
The point isn’t that New Yorkers can’t write about the country, no more than the other way around. The point is that Shelly’s film is so off in its details that you get the feeling it’s structurally unsound—the house not only needs a different coat of paint, its walls are falling in. And what, exactly, is Shelly getting at by fetishizing pies? We get extended shots of Kerry Russell pouring cherry fillings into a moist crust, massaging the dough over the pie plate like a Swedish masseuse. If this were parody, I’d say this is a hilarious send-up of a Truman Capote short story. Instead, it’s just an awkward metaphor for the author’s condescending view of working class Southern women.