Spider-Man 3; Waitress; Away from Her

Hosted by

I'm going to give fairly short shrift to Spider-Man 3 because it is what it is -- lots of spectacular action and lots of unaccountably flat dramatic interludes. They're all the more unaccountable in a production that, by another accounting, may have cost more than any other in movie history. And the film also suffers from a surfeit of villains. Poor Spidey has to deal with three bad guys -- though one of them swings between nasty and nice -- plus the arch villain of a script that seems to be obsessed with the settling of old accounts, and the recycling of old themes. It's too harsh to say that what was fresh has gone completely stale -- the truth lies in between, as it does with day-old bread.

The movie that moved me most this week is Waitress, which stars Keri Russell as Jenna, the lovelorn heroine of the title. Every day of her working life at a diner in a small Southern town, Jenna bakes a new pie of her own invention. Her creations are her gift to the world. When she isn't baking pies that look and taste sublime, she's sublimating her dreams of happiness, and her marital misery, into culinary fantasies with names like I Hate My Husband Pie. If this delicious comedy were edible, it might be called My Last Gift To the World Pie. The writer-director Adrienne Shelly, was murdered in her office in Manhattan late last year. She was only 40, and in this last film she took such perishable ingredients as wit, daring, poignancy, whimsy and romance, added passionate feelings plus the constant possibility of joy, decorated her one-of-a-kind production with pastel colors and created something close to perfection.

Keri Russell's performance as Jenna must have made Shelly joyful; it's a flawless expression of the movie's sweet, smart soul. Waitress looks like a beguiling cartoon -- the Coen Brothers crossed with The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. Yet the cartoon never lapses into caricature or condescension, and just beneath the bright, cheerful surface lies poetic longing and the urgency of love.

Away from Her is a fine debut feature by the young Canadian actress Sarah Polley. Instead of the frying pan and the fire, the movie gives us the frying pan and the freezer. That's where Julie Christie's Fiona puts her trusty skillet after washing it in the kitchen sink -- it's a first sign that something is wrong. In fact, something is terribly wrong. This vivid, handsome woman in the fullness of her life has already been beset by the early symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. Worse still, she knows it, or at least suspects it. With a chilling combination of clarity and detachment, she tells her husband, Grant: "I think I may be beginning to disappear."

Youth has trouble imagining age in the best of circumstances. When it comes to connecting with Alzheimer's, the imaginative leap becomes a huge one, and not just for young people; who can really fathom what it must be like when the core of your being comes undone, memory by memory? From what's on screen, Sarah Polley can, even though she's only 27. She's turned an Alice Munro short story into a feature film that's sometimes astringent, and sometimes very funny, but deeply and memorably stirring. And it's not just a solo turn by Julie Christie. Away from Her is a duet that depends equally on Gordon Pinsent's superb performance as a loving, grieving husband who gives new meaning to the notion of letting go.