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November 27, 2007
Great performances in '07: Keri Russell in 'Waitress'

The start of the holiday season means that other vital and life-affirming annual season is just around the corner. I speak, of course, of movie awards season, which kicks off in early- to- mid-December with pronouncements from critics' groups.

It is the season of "for your consideration," and actors hailed as shoo-ins for Academy Awards before their movies even come out. In that same spirit of stumping, I will call attention to performances that might be overlooked in this occasional 21Q feature.

The first is Keri Russell in "Waitress" (pictured in a photo from Fox Searchlight):

Regardless of the role she's playing, Russell always looks as if she's thinking. And she's so good at looking as if she's thinking that she involves the audience in her character's thought process - even if those thoughts aren't particularly complex.

In "Waitress," her unhappily married and pregnant character, Jenna, doesn't want a lot. What she does want - and what Russell imparts in a performance that always carries a low- to- medium-level of anxiety - is to not have to be so weary of her creep of a husband. In other words, she wants a regular life.

Russell plays Jenna as the most mild of malcontents. She is devoted to her job and co-workers but still exists apart, her radiance dimmed by the knowledge that when her shift ends, normal life stops.

Russell delivers plenty of funny lines. But she's not playing comedy. The humor comes from Jenna's directness, and the poignancy of the frustration underlying it.

"Waitress" is a wonderful movie that would have been less wonderful had Russell not played the lead role. The depth of her performance offsets some of the film's Southern-fried quirkiness.

If you haven't seen Russell's performance, please check out "Waitress," out today on DVD.

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