NURSE BETTY (1998) 

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Renée Zellweger
Morgan Freeman
Chris Rock
Greg Kinnear
Aaron Eckhart
Tia Texada
Crispin Glover
Pruitt Taylor Vince
Allison Janney
Kathleen Wilhoite

Neil LaBute



Time: 112 mins.
Rating: R
Genre: Black Comedy

Neil LaBute's films aren't usually everyone's cup of tea. They are very black comedies that appeal to people who enjoy laughing at other people's pain and misfortunes. It seems, however, with NURSE BETTY he's trying to broaden his appeal a bit, adding just a touch of sweetness by centering the story around a character that's not completely loathsome. Which is not to say that this is a mainstream comedy. Far from it. It's just got a smidge more Hollywood thrown in. It's actually a very well-made film with some great performances and incredibly funny moments. The leads are all on their game, giving each of their characters a very distinct vibe. The story also seemed to be fairly accessible, so I just can't understand why it wasn't more popular in the theater. Maybe because Betty is obsessed with a soap star people thought it was going to be like SOAPDISH. Well, let me assure you there's far too much blood and cursing for this to be close to a farce.

The film opens on Betty's (Zellweger) birthday. She works as a waitress at the local diner where she tries to catch her favorite soap, A Reason to Love. Her husband Del (Eckhart), the local used car salesman, no longer appreciates her, nor does he remember her birthday. She borrows a car from the lot, one he specifically told her not to, in order to go celebrate with her best friend, but things don't work out so she returns home to watch the tape of the show's latest episode. Her viewing is interrupted by Del and his business associates, Charlie (Freeman) and Wesley (Rock). She tries to ignore them, but their conversation gets heated and drowns out the dialogue of the show. When she peeks around the door to see what's happening, she gets a picture of pure violence she won't soon forget. Wesley and Charlie are on a mission to retrieve something Del stole and they aren't leaving until they get it. Of course, with their main source now dead, Charlie and Wesley have a hard time confirming the accuracy of Del's information.

Del's murder sends shockwaves through the town. Betty's nonchalance about the whole situation makes her a suspect, mainly because the town sheriff (Vance) has nothing else to go on. Her sudden disappearance doesn't help matters. Betty has never encountered violence like that in her life and the shock pushes her over the edge, sending her into a fantasy world with her favorite soap actor Dr. David Revell (Kinnear) at the center of it. Using the car she originally borrowed from the lot, she drives out to Los Angeles to reunite with her "ex-fiance." In her search for David, she manages to acquire a job and a roommate in a matter of days. Rosa (Texada), a Latina who's given up on men, decides to take up Betty's quest to find David, but is less than pleased when she discovers Betty is just an obsessed fan. Angry to be so deceived, Rosa tries to burst Betty's bubble by arranging a chance meeting with George McCord. Of course, he's so impressed with her "method acting" that Betty ends up spending the evening with him and finds herself completely in love. As for George, he's never met anyone like her.

"My friend says if you were any more handsome it would be a crime. It's a shame you're such an asshole."

Things get crazier from there as Charlie and Wesley figure out that Betty must be involved with their transaction, forcing them to tail her all the way from Kansas to Los Angeles. Charlie can't believe a sweet woman like Betty could be involved in such a sordid affair, but either way, she's a loose end that must be tied up. This was supposed to be his last hit and he just wants to retire peacefully. He'll get his wish, but not in the way he was thinking. Things heat up between Betty and George/David, who decides to give Betty a bit role on A Reason to Love. Her "performance" with him has been amazing and he just knows she'll be great. Once on the set, it quickly becomes clear that Betty wasn't acting at all, that she really believed he was Dr. David Revell. The final act of the film puts Betty in danger of losing her life now that she's regained her mind. In the end, NURSE BETTY is a film about finding your special place in the world, whether it be as a nurse or a soap star, to live life instead of a fantasy. The road to accomplishing those dreams is sometimes bloody, but it's worth it in the end.

Zellweger does an amazing job as Betty. Her sweet determination keeps the film moving along and gives it an unconventional heroine. NURSE BETTY, unlike LaBute's other films, still manages to have heart, even though the ending isn't a completely happy one. Freeman and Rock are the perfect hit man duo – the kindhearted, serious mentor and the brash, disrespectful student. Their scenes encompass much of the film's comedy, as well as its violence. It's clear no one is safe until their job is completed. Freeman's final scene with Zellweger will have you on the edge of your seat. The connection between them is so powerful your eyes will not leave the screen. Only one of them will leave the room alive and that's not a conclusion that's easy to bear. Kinnear also gives an above average performance as the actor taken in by Betty's psychosis. Her love for him is so pure he can't believe it could be true. The rest of the supporting cast – Janney, Vance and Glover – are first rate, adding their own bits of sparkle that keep the film fun and amusing.

Much like FARGO, NURSE BETTY is not a tale for everyone. Certainly not as overall gory as FARGO, it does have some bloody moments that will make you squeal with disgust. The main focus of the film is Betty's journey to finding herself and her place in the world. The plot is interesting throughout and the dialogue was crisp and clever. It drags a bit in the middle while on the road with the hit men, but not for too long. I was even surprised by some of the plot twists which is a major plus for me. If you're looking for a great comedy with a little bite, do yourself a favor and check this one out. It's rare for a film with such great talent to actually be worth watching.

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