Today should mark the 48th birthday of remarkably talented and fairly understated actor-writer-director extraordinaire Adrienne Shelly. It would have, had she not been murdered in November of 2006 by a 19-year-old construction worker who had attempted to rob her Greenwich Village studio.
After dropping out of Boston University’s film production program, Shelly relocated to the Big Apple and made a name for herself as the muse of independent film pioneer Hal Hartley. His first two features, 1989’s “The Unbelievable Truth” and 1990’s “Trust”, both starred Shelly as a half-precocious adolescent at odds with the world. Following suit, her forays into the mainstream were few and far between; Shelly chose small projects based on their substance as opposed to roles that would map her way out to stardom.
Small-bodied but big-brained, in time Shelly stepped out from in front of the camera to assume more creative control behind. She wrote and directed a string of low-budget comedies, which although not widely distributed have collected a solid group of adoring fans: 1997’s “Lois Lives a Little” and “Sudden Manhattan”, 1999’s “I’ll Take You There”, and 2000’s “The Shadows of Bob and Zelda”. The work for which she might be most remembered, though, is the posthumously released “Waitress”, a feel-good romcom starring Keri Russell, and just as charming as she was in her movie debut years earlier, the late great Shelly. About a deep south diner waitress trapped in a loveless marriage and an unexpected pregnancy, at its heart it is a story of womanhood and female liberation - a recurring theme throughout Shelly’s work. It premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, the venue where she had dreamed of her films one day screening; sadly, she could not be in attendance.
Once her life was tragically cut short, Shelly’s husband founded the ‘Adrienne Shelly Foundation’, which supports the artistic achievements of female actors, writers and directors through a series of scholarships and grants. The Women Film Critics Circle established an award in her honour, given to the film it considers “most passionately opposes violence against women.”
Watch a clip of Shelly's debut below, and together let’s wish her a happy birthday. Rest in peace Adrienne.