Nurse Betty

Directed by Neil LaBute
Starring: Renée Zellweger, Morgan Freeman, Chris Rock, Greg Kinnear, Aaron Eckhart, Tia Texada, Crispin Glover, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Allison Janney, Kathleen Wilhoite.
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence, pervasive language and a scene of sexuality.

Review by Matt Heffernan <matt@filmhead.com>
September 11, 2000

When I first saw In the Company of Men, I would never have guessed that Neil LaBute would go on to make a film with Renée Zellweger, who a year earlier had her big break in Cameron Crowe's Jerry Maguire. LaBute would never write a line like "You had me at 'Hello.'" Thankfully, John C. Richards created a story that suits Zellweger, and provides LaBute with a first "commercial" film that manages to suit him just as well.

Zellweger plays Betty Sizemore, a waitress who lives in Kansas with her no-good, car-dealing, philandering husband Del (Aaron Eckhart). Her only escape from a dead-end job and an even worse marriage is the soap opera "A Reason to Love", starring George McCord (Greg Kinnear) as cardiologist Dr. David Ravell.

One night, while she is watching that day's episode on tape, her husband comes home with a pair of men (Morgan Freeman and Chris Rock) who supposedly want to buy some of his cars. Actually, they want a particular car that has stolen drugs in the trunk. They end up killing him -- before finding out which car had the drugs -- while Betty watches from the other room. She takes off (in the very car that has the drugs) for Los Angeles in a delirious state where she believes that Dr. Ravell is real and that she must reunite with him.

Here's where the layers come in: Betty doesn't know about the drugs, and is in denial about Del's death, in addition to believing that she was once engaged to a soap opera character. Freeman's character, Charlie, is obsessed with Betty, thinking that she has brilliantly pulled off a heist. He refuses to believe his partner Wesley's theory that she just went insane. This story and these wonderfully played characters make Nurse Betty the delightfully comic caper/road movie that The Way of the Gun wanted to be.

It's entirely different from LaBute's previous films (In the Company of Men and Your Friends and Neighbors), which were edgy dramas exploring the dark side of human sexuality. He wrote those screenplays himself, so the only thing reminiscent of his earlier work is the presence (albeit brief) of Eckhart. He shows here that he can take somebody else's idea and make it work. This film requires a lighter touch, but still gives him the opportunity to examine a surreal situation. Zellweger and Freeman go off on flights of fancy that are indeed amusing, and yet are strangely moving.

Nurse Betty is the first film this year with real Academy Award prospects, having won the screenplay award at Cannes. It looks like a good start to Oscar season, and another fine film for LaBute. In fact, a good omen happened just a few hours before this article was written: Allison Janney, who plays the producer of "A Reason to Love", was awarded an Emmy for her part on "The West Wing". It's doubtful that she'll pull a Judi Dench with this film, but the principal castmembers and filmmakers certainly have a chance.


For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
Nurse Betty (2000)

Here's some merchandise for sale at Amazon.com
Nurse Betty (2000) -- VHS
Nurse Betty (2000) -- DVD
Nurse Betty: The Shooting Script, by John C. Richards and James Flamberg -- Paperback


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Review © 2000 Matt Heffernan