Title: Nurse Betty
Play time: 1h 50min
Director: Neil LaBute
Screenwriters: John C. Richards
Starring: Aaron Eckhart, Chris Rock, Renée Zellweger, Greg Kinnear, Morgan Freeman.
Schizophrenia may be a serious medical condition but according to Hollywood, it is one big barrel of laughs. Jim Carrey’s Me, Myself and Irene earlier this year and now Neil LaBute’s Nurse Betty have both played off the notion that crazy people are funny. But while Irene was nothing more than a silly gross-out comedy, Betty seems to have more in mind. This bizarrely funny satire/allegory from the maker of heavier fare such as In the Company of Men works on a surprising number of levels, not the least of which is perhaps the first human Renee Zellweger performance I have ever seen.
Scene Preview of Nurse Betty the Film
One of the first scenes has Betty Sizemore, a waitress in a restaurant, watching her favorite television soap opera while on the job. She is utterly captivated and when a customer (who happens to be Morgan Freeman, playing a professional criminal) literally yells at her to refill his coffee, she leans back and pours a perfect cup without taking her eyes off the television screen.
Later, she borrows a car from her sleazy husband Del’s dealership, comes home and sits down to watch yet another episode of her soap while her husband is meeting with a couple of thugs in the next room. Apparently, Del has something they want hidden in the trunk of one of his cars. As she is watching, she sees him be brutally scalped and killed right in front of her eyes. This is a traumatic experience; so traumatic, in fact that reality and the events in the soap opera get mixed up in her head. Suddenly, she thinks that she is one of the characters on the show and embarks on a quest to find the fictional Dr. David Ravell (the actor who plays Ravell is played by Greg Kinnear) whom she thinks she dumped at the altar years ago.
The crooks who murdered Del (Morgan Freeman and Chris Rock, who met Betty earlier in the coffee shop) realize that a) they can’t find the loot and b) Betty was a witness. They decide to go after her; meanwhile, she travels to LA where she searches for the nonexistent hospital where her lover supposedly works.
Nurse Betty is Quirky, Unusual & Funny
Nurse Betty is quirky, unusual and often very funny but it has a devastatingly sad undercurrent. While Betty is in love with someone who doesn’t even exist, Morgan Freeman’s character falls for the impression he got from Betty in the coffee shop that one afternoon. When he finds out about Betty’s mental disorder he throws a fit. “She wouldn’t do that! Not my Betty!” Both of these people are infatuated with a figment of someone’s imagination.
Here, LaBute reveals an unexpected skill (unexpected after the blunt frankness of his first two films) of taking deadly serious material and packaging it in a lighthearted exterior. The movie definitely plays Betty’s often poignant confusion for laughs but it is never unfaithful to its central theme of people looking for love outside of the real world.
One of Renee Zellweger Best Acting Performance
The biggest surprise that’s in store for us, however, is the performance of Renee Zellweger. In a review of her last movie, I called her “curiously untalented” and now I find myself having to eat my words. Here she is a revelation — funny, poignant and almost painfully sincere. She does more with her role that I would have expected from anyone. I don’t care what she does in her next two (2) movies; her incredible turn here easily makes up for her past mediocrities and will easily make up for a few more if she feels she must return to her old ways.
Nurse Betty is probably one of the most unusual films I’ve seen this year, original in almost every possible way. This is certainly a change of pace for Neil LaBute and it’s good to see him expand his filmmaking horizons beyond the nasty, feel-bad comedy that seemed to be his previous specialty. Nurse Betty is a revelation.