Film Reviews | May 12, 2006 | Comments ()
p>For a brief time post-college, I waited tables at a pseudo-French Creole bistro restaurant chain. I wasn’t sure what the hell to do with myself or my newly minted and basically useless English degree. Getting stoned and ridiculously drunk after each and every shift with the same people who, like me, were forced to try and upsell the “Cajun Shrimp Extravaganza!” to irate senior citizens night after night seemed to be a noble enough profession at that particular moment in time. After leaving my tight-knit circle of college friends via graduation, I was a bit at sea, and the comfort of another group of automatic drinking buddies was appreciated. This went on for a while until I realized that, if I’d had the inclination, I could end up staying on, waiting tables forever. What had been a stop-gap summer job for me had the very real possibility of being a life choice — the kind where you wake up at 40 and blurt out, “I really fucked this one up.” Not long after that realization, I tendered my resignation and left my waitress days far behind me. But I gained a lifelong respect for restaurant employees; they are a unique group of people who, through a dysfunctional family dynamic, work their asses off and take a lot of crap from a largely unsupportive, often downright hostile clientele.
Which is why I so looked forward to seeing Waiting…. This film, written and directed by first-timer Rob McKittrick, offers instant appeal to anyone who’s ever been a restaurant employee. The movie takes place over the span of 24 hours in the lives of the employees of Shenaniganz, a cheerless chain restaurant filled with the typical forced zaniness of old-timey wood signs, taxidermied animals, and cheerless kitsch galore. McKittirick himself spent years working at a slew of mega-chain themed family bar and grill nightmares, and it’s this type attention to detail the gives his debut its strongest moments. Tableaus of the staff preparing for their shifts — marrying ketchup bottles, restocking sugar packets, wiping down tables — are sure to elicit groans of recognition from any servers in the audience (myself included).
The amicable everyman Dean, played by Justin Long, feels trapped in his waiter job after hearing news that a high school friend has graduated college and done well for himself. Dean is languishing at his local community college, not making progress, and his attempts to make meaning of his life drive the film forward. Along the way, his best friend and fellow server Monty (the ever-snarky Ryan Reynolds) trains a new employee, who is privy to all of the quirks and eccentricities of the entire staff, who work amazingly well as an ensemble. When Justin is offered an assistant manager promotion by the heartbreakingly dorky manager Dan (David Koechner), he has to make a choice — stay on in what he feels is a dead-end job, or leave. Meanwhile, Ryan has to deal with his attraction to the 17-year-old hostess, who is but one in a string of Lolitas for him.
In the spirit of the slice-of-life Dazed and Confused, Waiting introduces us to memorable characters who co-exist in the universe that is Shenaniganz. There’s the lipstick lesbian bartender; the angry, burned out waitress who’s been at her job way too long; and two adorably deluded wannabe gangsta busboys, played to the hilt by MTV’s comedy wunderkind Andy Milonakis and Max Kasch. In a somewhat condescending turn, the talented Chi McBride appears as a dishwasher/waitstaff psychiatrist. McBride deserves credit for turning the one-dimensional role of “wise, spiritual black man” into something much more. And in a clear homage to Swingers, we see the mousy Calvin (Robert Patrick Benedict) attempting numerous ill-advised, soul-crushingly awkward phone calls to a clearly uninterested woman.
Speaking of ill, the faint of heart should be warned that there’s a scene in the film that is gut-wrenching, involving a difficult customer’s order being modified with a variety of bodily fluids by the vengeful waitstaff. This gross-out humor punctuates a great deal of Waiting, and I have to say, it proves to be problematic. The material veers unevenly between laugh-out-loud moments of Farrelly-esque genital jokes to witty banter between the actors that mirrors Mike Judge’s well-observed Office Space. Add in some poignant moments where Dean is forced to confront his lack of direction, and you have a decent film that seems more than a bit confused. This makes Waiting frustrating, and here is why: Much like its very likeable protagonist Dean, it isn’t quite sure what it wants to be yet. It’s tough for any director to switch gears between high- and lowbrow comedy. As a first-timer with, admittedly, no prior directing experience, McKittirck may have done himself a disservice helming his own project.
However, despite its uneven pacing, Waiting still has some great moments that make it worth seeing. I give McKittrick credit for his unflinchingly honest portrayals of the lives of the waitstaff and cooks — this is where his work really shines. Also, kudos for him to writing some really great three-dimensional female characters who are allowed to have engaging dialogue with their male counterparts without constantly being reduced to “bitches.” Make sure to stay through the credit sequence, which offers what has to be the best part of the movie: a rap video fantasy provided by baby-faced pottymouth Milonakis and corn-rowed Kasch that is so outlandishly misogynistic that it becomes a brilliant parody of the worst of hip hop.
Brandy Barber is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn, New York. You can check out her weblog Hatefully Charming.