For anyone who has ever had the experience of working in the restaurant industry, "Waiting..." is a love poem to them. First-time writer-director Rob McKittrick conceived of the idea after waiting tables at a number of chain restaurants in the Orlando, Florida, area, and it shows. The film, as sometimes raunchy and outlandish as it is, is so detail-oriented and real that it could only have been made by a past employee who knows first hand of the stressful, maddening ins and outs of serving food to the public and the combinative nature of in-staff relationships. Trust me; I was an exceedingly disgruntled waiter myself for five years, and it nearly scarred me for life.
The loosely woven story, as it were, takes place almost solely between the opening and closing hours of ShenaniganZreally Bennigan's in disguisedetailing a day in the life of its employees. Upon arrival, slick hotshot Monty (Ryan Reynolds), the type of guy who prides himself on being the "cool one," is given the task of training wet-behind-the-ears employee Mitch (John Francis Daley). 22-year-old Dean (Justin Long), a part-time student at the local community college, is reminded that he has no idea what he wants to do with his life after learning that a successful fellow classmate of his has graduated from a high-profile university and has already begun a prestigious career. Also figuring into the proceedings are fellow servers Calvin (Patrick Benedict), in turmoil over not being able to urinate in public restrooms, Serena (Anna Faris), Monty's ex, and fed-up veteran Naomi (Alanna Ubach); cooks headed by the philosophical Bishop (Chi McBride); druggie bussers Nick (Andy Milonakis) and T-Dog (Max Kasch); underage hottie hostess Natasha (Vanessa Lengies); lesbian bartender Tyla (Emmanuelle Chriqui); and slimy manager Dan (David Koechner).
"Waiting..." may too obviously have been inspired by watching Kevin Smith's early work (1994's "Clerks" and 1995's "Mallrats"), and also resembles 1995's wonderful cult comedy "Empire Records," but it is zippy, funny, and naturalistic enough to carve out a place for itself within that niche. Just about any viewer will be able to enjoy and laugh at the antics of the characters as they go through the repetitive slog of an average work day, but those who have worked in restaurants will no doubt be able to relate more closely to what writer-director Rob McKittrick has created.
Each of the characters are instantly recognizable typesthe smooth-talking expert; the longtime server at the end of her ropes who is sweet to her customers and then releases her rage in the kitchen; the pretty waitress who knows how to flirt to get bigger tips; the bored server who is simply going through the motionsbut they resound with truth. Likewise, the range of customers are dead-on accurate, from the rednecks, the foreigners, the bad tippers, and the serial complainers. All that it is missing are the clueless parents with the screaming children who ruin everyone else's meal.
Colorfully written dialogue and masterfully observed slices of the serving experience percolate throughout "Waiting..." making the goings-on all the more rib-tickling. Especially brilliant is Naomi, played with delightfully savage scene-stealery by Alanna Ubach (2003's "Legally Blonde 2: Red, White and Blonde
"). In the movie's biggest laugh, which evolved out of my personal connection to her feelings, Naomi reacts sweetly to a diner's dessert order during the dinner rush, only to flip a switch the second she turns around and go on a rampage in the kitchen. Having to make the hot fudge sundae herself, things go further downhill when she is faced with not one, but two, empty whipped cream cans. It's equal parts painful and delightful to watch because of the accuracy of the situation. Less successful is an ongoing bit involving "The Game," which the male employees play by trying to get the others to look just as they expose their penis. Who knows if this really has ever gone on behind-the-scenes at a restaurant, but it falls flat and comes off as the least believable segment. It should be said, though, that the payoff of this subplot, again involving Naomi, is uproarious.
The likable ensemble work easily together, slinking into their roles and adapting to just the right mind frame and body language of real-life servers going through the motions. Some of the cast members aren't used as well as others, however, and it would have been nice to have developed them more from the inside rather than outwardly. Ryan Reynolds (2005's "The Amityville Horror
") can do no wrong when it comes to playing comedic leads. His comic sensibilities are impeccablethe same goes for Anna Faris (2003's "Scary Movie 3
") in the lesser part of tell-it-like-it-is Serenaand he also adds further shades to Monty by playing him as an affable guy whose player ways are a thin mask for someone who is really a big softie.
As Dean, Justin Long (2005's "Herbie: Fully Loaded
") is the picture's focal point and the only one with a palpable arc. Dean's conflict of being at an age where he is unsure of where his life is going and fearing the permanence of being a server if he doesn't figure things out soon is dealt with in an assured, low-key manner that is surprisingly affecting. Furthermore, Long is very good as the straight man to the more outrageous elements going on around him.
"Waiting..." approaches neither the heights of "Clerks" nor "Empire Records," as it is mostly light on plot, profundity and character exploration, but there is something novel all the same about a film that deals with the realities of restaurant employees and gives this underappreciated portion of the workforce their day in the spotlight. As I see it, being a server is one of the most high-stress, demanding job that there is, and "Waiting..." does a commendable job of personifying this notion. And, as unnecessary as sequels usually are, this film actually warrants one ("Still Waiting...," anyone?), if only because there is so much backstage fodder for material on the subject that director Rob McKittrick is unable to cram it all into a 90-minute running time. As an airy comedy, "Waiting..." is sharp-witted and fairly consistently hilarious, rustling up some affectionate, but mostly disturbing, flashbacks to my own restaurant days that had me vowing to never be a server again.