He collapses into a puddle of contrition at the feet of his wife.


An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis

            Jenna (Keri Russell) is a waitress at Joeís Pie Diner, and thatís all thatís ordinary about this movie. In an odd mixture of sharply funny and oddly sentimental exchanges the script is wonderfully unashamed of manipulating us. Its public success is a salute to Adrienne Shelly who wrote, directed and acted in it, and was murdered in her New York apartment shortly before its release. But letís start at the beginning.

            Jenna (Keri Russell) designs pies in her dreams. Led on by a slow, bubbling passion for the color and texture of ingredients, she mixes them with cool confidence and names them for the life moments that inspired them. These moments reflect the people in her dismal life: a ďmiserable snakeĒ of a husband, her two loyal, air headed fellow waitresses, and the obstetrician who will deliver the baby she does not want. If she canít escape the controlling lout, Jenna will content herself with making glorious pies.

            Every time husband Earl (Jeremy Sisto) roars up to the diner with his horn at full blast, there is an intake of breath in the audience at that terrible symbol of control. But Earl, the red neck brute who lives on the edge of violence, usually, but not always, collapses into a puddle of contrition at the feet of his wife. Jenna, on the other hand, is capable of soaring, of smiling, of dreaming; but when the cards are stacked against her, sheís both a realist and a rock. Keri Russellís performance is perfect. She gives Jenna, a tart tongue, hope, and a determination to grab at any part of her dreams that life might toss her way.

            Whatís tossed is Dr. Pomatter (Nathan Fillion), the married obstetrician who falls absolutely in love with Jenna and joins her in comic romp of an affair in the doctorís office. The wonderful thing about all this is the certainty that because it is a fantasy, we donít have to spend a minute worrying about the consequences. Nathan Fillion endows Dr. Pomatter with exactly the fey qualities the dear doctor needs.

            Andy Griffith plays Old Joe, owner of the diner, who is devoted to his pie maker and delivers his advice to her in barely disguised stories intended as life lessons. The other waitresses - Becky (Cheryl Hines) and Dawn (Adrienne Shelly) - hook up with the dim but available men (Lew Temple and Eddie Jemison) in deliberately overdone comedy. Just when any of this threatens to become one notch too silly, Jenna pulls things back to reality, always inching toward her dream. How she gets there delights the audience.

            So there you have it, a fantasy, a comedy, and some terrific acting. That tone could not have been set without Keri Russell and Nathan Fillion who caught the full sense of Adrienne Shellyís script and played their parts straight Ė with a twist - in the midst of equally good comic silliness. This contrast turns the film into a small jewel.

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