I woke up this morning depressed and the first thought I had was: “I need to watch Waitress.”
Its no secret that I prefer films made by women. Whether they’re directing them or writing them or both, I’m on board. And Adrienne Shelly… She did both. And she did them very well, in my opinion. Adrienne Shelly was weird and quirky and dark and funny and edgy in a way that I’ve always wanted to be. And when I first saw Waitress, way back in 2008 when I was in high school and having the worst time, I watched Waitress and felt like I had a kindred spirit in Adrienne Shelly. I fell in love with her humor and weird directing choices. I fell in love with her voice (because she’s in the movie and it sounds great).
And then I read her IMDb and found out that she was dead. Adrienne Shelly was dead at 40 years old. Killed in a bizarre hanging that was made to look like a suicide. I looked up more on her, and found out about The Adrienne Shelly Foundation created in her name as a means to support female filmmakers. It was around that time that I decided I wanted to be one of those filmmakers. It’s 2016 and I still haven’t made my own film, but I want to. I’ve gone to school and learned how to write screenplays. I know that I have the ability to do it. And every time I rewatch Waitress I remember that.
Posthumously, a screenplay she wrote was made into the film Serious Moonlight, directed by her Waitress co-star Cheryl Hines. I love Cheryl Hines as a performer, but I can’t help but wonder what Adrienne Shelly could have done with her own script. It may not have been a great film, but it would have been interesting. And it would have been hers.
It’s strange watching a film as a teenager, growing up and realizing that it’s an accurate depiction of your adult depression. I really and truly relate to Jenna. She’s like a kindred spirit. Every choice she makes rings true to me. They may not ring “right” but life isn’t always about right and wrong. I’ve made her same mistakes, and I don’t regret making them much. I have been with people like Earl and flirted with guys like Dr. Pomatter, while I did it. I’ve spent extended time with men that have made me miserable because I was too depressed to do anything or because I thought maybe things would change eventually if I was patient enough. I’ve fucked people just to sabotage my life or give it some excitement. I’ve fucked people just so I could have somewhere to go on a Saturday night.
I didn’t become a feminist until near the end of college, and that is when I got another reading of this film: Earl is a posterman for toxic masculinity. He’s possessive, abusive physically and mentally, domineering and completely impossible to be around. But at the core of all that, he’s sad. He’s sad and intimidated by his wife. He’s intimidated by her potential and intelligence and beauty. He’s intimidated by the fact that he knows that he is not and was never good enough or her. And instead of working through that and recognizing that, he decides instead that it’s her fault that she’s “better” than him and acts accordingly.
I have been with men and wondered over and over why they didn’t read my writing or pay attention to my artistic output. Other times, they did those things but were always rude about it or dismissive. I have wondered how I could be so supportive of their art and career and they couldn’t do the same for me. I know now that it comes from intimidation. Self-loathing. Feeling lesser than. So they kept me down in the most obvious way: Patriarchy. Men would use their strength and their stature to keep me down. They would feed on my depression and complacency to ensure I’d stick around. Each time I did, for much longer than I needed to.
This is not just a problem for adult women. These kinds of relationship start as early as middle school. This toxic masculine behavior is learned and passed on. These things often aren’t created out of evil, but out of sadness. Waitress really highlights how sad patriarchy is. It’s sad when men turn to women for all of their emotional labor and support instead of looking inward, seeing that they are unhappy, and making a change for themselves.
Watching the film this morning I found myself asking: What if Earl just isn’t happy with Jenna? What if he never was? What if he just feels like he needs to have a wife, even if it is one who doesn’t even like him? That is not to say he’s the more sympathetic character. I’m watch Jenna all the way. But watching this film now, it struck me how sad he was and how he erroneously turned to patriarchal methods to try to make himself feel better.
But the thing is, Earl will never feel better. He does not afford himself the emotional journey that Jenna went on. He doesn’t allow that for himself. Meanwhile, Jenna found herself and learned how to love her child. She set out on her own and achieved her dreams.
The thing about depression is that it’s so hard to crawl out. It’s so painful and sometimes you have to do some fucked up shit to get where you’re going. But Waitress always reminds me that it’s possible. Sometimes.