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NURSE BETTY

Review by Andrew Manning (8/00)

Release: 2000, USA Films
Starring: Renee Zellweger, Morgan Freeman, Chris Rock, Greg Kinnear
Director: Neil LaBute
MPAA Rating: [R] language, violence, sexuality
Genre: Dark Comedy
Running Time: 109 minutes




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SUMMARY

After her husband is brutally murdered, soap opera addict Betty (Zellweger) regresses into a delusional state in which she can't distinguish between fantasy and reality. Believing herself to be a character on her favorite soap, she travels from Kansas to California in search of the fictional heart surgeon, Dr. David Ravell (Kinnear), while her husband's murderers (Freeman and Rock) trail her.

THE SUDDEN RUNDOWN

A delightful dark comedy highlighted by an outstanding performance from Renee Zellweger.

WHAT'S GOOD

As one of the most outstanding comedies of the year, Nurse Betty offers a refreshingly different story and first rate performances from its lead cast. Rising high above the remarkable ensemble is Renee Zellweger as the title character. Betty Sizemore is a trusting waitress/housewife who is addicted to a daytime soap called "A Reason to Love." One night, her no-account, dirtbag husband (Aaron Eckhart) is brutally murdered while conducting shady business with a pair of criminals. The event is so traumatizing for young Betty that her mind immediately slips into denial, and she delusionally believes she is a character on her favorite soap. Specifically, she thinks she is the ex-fiancee of Dr. David Ravell (Greg Kinnear), the lead heart surgeon at Loma Vista Medical. Living out this fantasy world in which she doesn't have to deal with the grisly death of her husband, she travels from Kansas to California to find the good doctor and get back together with him.

Unbeknownst to Betty, her husband's killers are hot on her trail, determined to retrieve what's in the trunk of the Buick LaSabre she's driving to Los Angeles. Charlie, the senior partner in crime (Morgan Freeman), mistakenly believes Betty is devious mastermind who has outwitted them, and as the duo follow Betty to the west coast, Charlie begins to obssess over her. In the meanwhile, hot-tempered Wesley (Chris Rock) just wants to get the job done, and becomes increasingly annoyed by Charlie's obsessions.

When Betty arrives in the City of Angels, she goes to a hospital in search of the fictional Dr. Ravell. But just as she's booted out on her looney ass, an emergency situation hits, and believing herself to be a nurse, Betty saves the life of a gunshot victim. The deed earns her a job at the hospital and even gets her a roommate. Her quest for Ravell continues, until she finally meets the actor who plays him at a charity dinner. The cast and crew of "A Reason to Love" don't realize Betty is crazy--instead, they think she's a very determined character actor trying to land a spot on the show. Of course, all wackiness ensues when she is finally confronted with her delusional state, just as Charlie and Wesley catch up with her.

Nurse Betty's funny and captivating story unfolds at a brisk pace. Virtually all of the charisma of the title character can be attributed to Renee Zellweger's performance. She plays Betty as a tragic character who is irrepressible at heart, the sort of girl whose circumstances of life snuffed out any greatness she had the potential for. It's revealed that Betty always wanted to be a nurse, but her life in a small town never afforded her the opportunity.

Chris Rock is hilarious as usual. His character of Wesley is just as nutty as everyone else in the movie--he just doesn't seem to know it. It turns out that he's a closet fan of "A Reason to Love" because of a buxom hottie on the show named Jasmine. At a critical point in the movie, he gets distracted by a lesbian scene with Jasmine on the soap opera, screaming, "You can show that sh*t on TV???" Chris Rock, of course, adds a slew of foul-mouthed dialogue to the movie.

Morgan Freeman's Charlie is the perfect balance to Chris Rock's Wesley. He brings experience and temperment to their operation, but he also adds a doting craziness. He's the typical "honor among thieves" criminal, believing that he follows some sort of self-imposed code of ethics in his illegal endeavors. His obsessive attention to detail makes him the perfect victim of Betty's charm. In one of the funniest--and easily the darkest--moments of the film, he is psychologically threatening Betty's husband to coax information out of him by describing the process of scalping. Wesley mistakenly interprets this as a genuine threat, and actually scalps the husband. Charlie goes ballistic over the impulsive actions of his colleague, then shoots the husband to put him out of his misery, claiming "it was the only humane thing to do, after you scalped his ass!"

Greg Kinnear makes for an excellent soap opera doctor, and the scenes of "A Reason to Love" we get to watch expertly convey the genre's cheesiness without being too outrageous. Crispin Glover, forever known in cinematic history as George McFly in Back to the Future has a small supporting role in this movie. One line of his in particular is a direct in-joke on McFly--I challenge everyone to look out for it!

Initially, I had some misgivings about Nurse Betty solely because of its director, Neil LaBute. His previous films, In the Company of Men and Your Friends and Neighbors, are the type of "men are dogs" and "aren't relationships oh-so quirky?" stories I can't stand, populated with bitter, chatty a-holes that belong locked away with Ally McBeal. But the only thread that is reminiscent of this style is that of Betty's scumbag husband, and he's graciously shortlived. Fortunately, Betty transcends all of the pettiness of LaBute's previous movies, and presents characters we can actually give a damn about.

All in all, Nurse Betty has just about everything going for it. But even with a great story and a strong cast, the best asset this movie has is Renee Zellweger and her portrayal of Betty--she's just so damned adorable.


WHAT'S BAD

A good portion of the movie depends on Greg Kinnear's actor character being oblivious to Betty's delusional state--and after a while, you start to wonder how he could be that clueless.

The relationship between Charlie and Wesley is touched upon briefly only at the end of the movie. In fact, there is a substantial revelation that Morgan Freeman throws out, but it's quickly pushed to the side and forgotten, making you wonder, "Well, why did they bring that up?"


Rating: 8.5 out of 10 (0=Abysmal, 5=Average, 10=Excellent)
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