Review by Michael Jacobson
Zellweger, Morgan Freeman, Chris Rock, Greg Kinnear, Aaron Eckhart
Director: Neil LaBute
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: USA Entertainment
Features: See Review
Length: 110 Minutes
Release Date: April 3, 2001
Nurse Betty is a weird and wonderful film that plays
like a cross between The Purple Rose of Cairo and Pulp Fiction.
It tickles the funnybone and tugs at the heartstrings almost
simultaneously. It has moments of
pure joy, incredible tenderness, and surprising violence.
In other words, it’s a movie that will act as a tonic for anybody who
doesn’t believe anything truly original or special comes out of the movies
For starters, I challenge anyone to watch this picture and
then say the Academy was justified in snubbing Renee Zellweger for a Best
Actress nomination. In fact, I’ll
challenge them one further: I defy
them to say that Julia Roberts deserved the statuette for Erin Brockovich after
seeing Nurse Betty. Ms.
Zellweger, who came to attention for her sunny work in Jerry Maguire, brings
the title character to life here with a wonderful amount of humanity, heart and
soul. It’s a strange journey the
audience has to take with this woman, one that asks for logic to be abandoned in
favor of embracing the fantastic. Without
her strong, amazing performance, none of that might be possible.
Betty is not a nurse.
She’s a coffee shop waitress in a small town in Kansas.
She lives with her boorish husband Del (Eckhart), a smarmy used car
salesman, and her only escape is into her favorite television program, the soap
opera “A Reason to Love”. She
loves the character of Dr. David Ravell (Kinnear), who is a kind, sad and
dutiful surgeon on the show, but is of course, just another actor in real life.
Her journey begins when two hit men, Charlie (Freeman) and
Wesley (Rock), show up at her house to settle some unpleasant business with her
husband. Witnessing the grisly
murder sends her into a state of shock, which she emerges from with no memory of
the foul deed or her real life. She
believes she is Dr. Ravell’s long lost one-time fiancée, and a nurse to boot.
With a cheery smile and a dream in her heart, she sets off on the long
trip west to join her beloved in Los Angeles.
But while her trek to California is full of hope and joy,
Charlie and Wesley follow with a much darker purpose. They have to find Betty and “finish the job”.
For the aging Charlie, this assignment is his last one.
He looks toward his future with a sullen sense of optimism, and though he
has no idea of Betty’s traumatic character change, begins to believe that
maybe for the first time in his life, he’s found something beautiful and pure
in her. Wesley, on the other hand,
is an edgy hothead who maybe takes a little too much pleasure in his work to be
an efficient killer. He doesn’t
care about Betty nor buy into his partner’s misplaced ideals about her. Ironically, though, he’s just as hooked on the soap opera
as Betty…a fact that plays in the movie in moments of comical juxtaposition.
For those who haven’t seen the film, I don’t want to
delve into the plot much deeper than that.
This is one of the few films I can remember whose trailer didn’t give
away too much, and I don’t want to be guilty of that, either.
Suffice to say, the picture has surprises in store:
unforeseen twists and turns, along with moments of heartwarming
tenderness and heartache…even a little suspense.
What fascinates me about the picture is the link between
Betty and Charlie. Each are sad,
lonely souls who are chasing a dream, but in both cases, the dream isn’t real,
but a personal projection of how they want that reality to be.
Charlie’s vision of Betty is no more true or valid than Betty thinking
that some cheesy actor is really the noble and romantic Dr. David Ravell.
“I don’t think I’m the person you think I am,” she carefully
tells Charlie when they finally meet, in a scene that’s funny, frightening and
This is a top notch cast of actors in prime condition.
Morgan Freeman is excellent as always, bringing out the soul in the
complicated and sad Charlie. We
look in this man’s eyes and see the wake of dead bodies strewn by his
lifetime, and we see the lines of pain, intelligence and hurtful experience on
his face. Chris Rock can always be counted on for a laugh when he makes
an appearance in film, but here, he flexes true acting mettle as Wesley.
He’s occasionally funny, but when he is, it isn’t Chris Rock funny.
He’s tapped into something with this character, which in turn, brings
out the best in Rock as an actor. Greg
Kinnear proves once again that his wonderful work in As Good as it Gets was
no fluke. He plays the doctor as
well as the actor playing the doctor, and rises to the challenge in some awkward
moments. And Aaron Eckhart, who’s
appeared in all of LaBute’s films thus far, makes the most out of his small
amount of screen time, creating an unforgettable character.
But the picture belongs to Renee Zellweger.
She gives the performance of the year as Betty, finding this woman’s
heart and understanding her desires. We
like her from the minute we see her; we love her completely by journey’s end.
I strongly wager that anyone who sees this film will cheer for her.
The script by screenwriters John C. Richards and James
Flamberg is refreshingly daring, and brave enough to play comedy against drama
and violence against sweetness. But
credit must also be given to director Neil LaBute, who makes sure the
ingredients blend smoothly into a delightful and smart motion picture.
His two previous films, In the Company of Men and Your Friends
and Neighbors are among my favorites; they indicate his skill in dealing
with the complexities of humanity, even in this, his first directorial effort
where he didn’t also write the screenplay.
Oscar snub or no, Nurse Betty was one of the best
films of the year. I saw it
theatrically many months ago, and was impressed when I watched this DVD and
realized I remembered so much of it: not
just the people and the stories, but the little nuances and emotions that went
along with them. Only the unique
movie going experience can have that kind of effect, and Nurse Betty is
all of that and more.
Though not indicated on the box, this is an
anamorphically enhanced offering from USA Entertainment.
That being said, I was quite disappointed in the transfer.
Many scenes looked good, but too many, including pivotal ones, didn’t
translate well at all. Color
saturation is a problem throughout: scenes
go from too yellow to too blue to too red to too white to too orange and back
again. When this happens, there’s
undue color bleeding, unnatural flesh tones, and a considerable amount of
softness to the images…enough, I’m afraid, to be a distraction. There’s more good than bad at play here, but those handful
of problematic scenes detract from the overall quality of the DVD.
There are two key sequences when the 5.1 soundtrack come to
life, and both of them involve a bizarre collage of sounds indicated a dreamlike
state for the characters. The rest
of the time, the movie is mostly dialogue oriented and doesn’t make demands on
you system. Spoken words and music
are mostly presented on the forward stage, and sounds clean, crisp and
Nurse Betty offers two commentary tracks, one of
which is the best so far in this young year.
It’s a group track with director LaBute and stars Zellweger, Freeman,
Rock and Kinnear, and is a funny and informative listen.
Kinnear even muses about what if somebody at home accidentally hit the
audio button on their remote and stumbled on their commentary…funny stuff!
There are moments of Ms. Zellweger alone, reflecting on the experience
and her work as the title character, but for the most part, listening to this
crew is like eavesdropping on a fun wrap party.
The other commentary features LaBute and some members of his technical
crew…not as lively, but equally informative.
The disc also contains a trailer and 6 TV spots, plus
several deleted scenes and the assembled “A Reason to Love” soap opera as
filmed for inclusion in the movie. There
are also some DVD ROM extras and hidden Easter eggs.
If you missed this terrific and original film the first time around, make your appointment to see Nurse Betty on DVD. This movie, with its wonderful cast, sharp script and sure handed direction is one you won’t soon forget.