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Waitress,” directed by Adrienne Shelly, is this year’s “Little Miss Sunshine,” and Keri Russell as Jenna, is this movie’s equivalent to Reese Witherspoon’s Golden Globe-nominated turn as Tracy Flick in “Election.”

The former “Felicity” star gives the performance of a lifetime as a quirky diner waitress with a bone dry sense of humor and a knack for life-inspired concoctions like “I Don’t Want Earl’s Baby” Pie. Russell plays it straight, dishing out commentary in a pitch-perfect southern drawl with just the right “I’m-never-gonna-get-out-of-this-darn-two-bit-town” deadpan, sad-eyed delivery.

As the story goes, Jenna’s awful husband gets her drunk and knocks her up one night, and now she’s even more down and out than before–stuck in the worst marriage ever and pregnant to boot. It’s in the quiet, almost meditative moments–when Jenna’s sitting outside the diner waiting for the bus–that her awe-inspiring, wacky delicious pie ideas come to her. Cheryl Hines (“Curb Your Enthusiasm”) and Adrienne Shelly back Russell up as fellow waitresses, confidantes, and official support system when things are at their worst. Best of all, Nathan Fillion (“Firefly”) plays the gorgeous, sweet-natured Dr. Pomatter who falls hard for Jenna and reminds her what it means to be loved.

I can’t remember when a movie made me laugh so hard. And all kinds of laughs, too–the ones that start with a little giggling and grow to belly laughing as the full hilarity of the moment begins to dawn on you, and the kind that simply make you burst out loud, doubling over in your seat.

The best part of all–this movie is about hope, starting again, and digging up the bright side in the dark stuff of that we trudge through. It’s about finding faith in the unlikeliest moments, about rediscovering the will to not only live but live happily and well. “Waitress” is about all that good stuff–and it’s sweet without being syrupy.

This is a movie not to be missed. What an incredible tribute to the joys and quirks of ordinary life Adrienne Shelly left for audiences this summer after her untimely death last fall.

Only one warning: Don’t go to it hungry! It’s hard to sit through the entire film without craving pie–between all the baking, the crust, the berries, the chocolate, the quiches, the spaghetti pie–you just wish you could try a bite. When I got out of the theater I went straight to the grocery store, bought ingredients, and went home and made a pie. No joke. I really did.

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