For the first time, LaBute is not directing from his own script, which might explain why, if I didn't know better, I would have sworn I was watching a Coen brothers movie. Who else would put a fantasy dancing sequence on the edge of the Grand Canyon at night?
The new Neil LaBute, that's who. But lest you think you're getting a kinder, gentler Neil, rest assured that Nurse Betty is really quite gruesome in its depiction of the human soul as essentially empty. There's even a scalping thrown in for good measure.
Nurse Betty, played by Renée Zellweger, is actually a small-town Kansas waitress trapped in a loveless marriage to the local car dealer (Aaron Eckhart). Betty has one passion in life: The soap opera A Reason to Love, starring George McCord (Greg Kinnear) as famous heart surgeon Dr. David Ravell. When Betty's husband gets mixed up in a drug deal gone wrong, Betty witnesses his gruesome demise and mentally breaks down. Poof! She's convinced David Ravell is a real person, and she is his long-lost love.
If this sounds like a premise from a sitcom, that's because it is -- Brooke Shields played the Betty role against Matt LeBlanc's soap doc in a recent episode of Friends. But the similarities end there. Nurse Betty quickly becomes an epic farce, with Betty (now convinced she is a nurse) trekking to L.A. in one of her husband's Buicks... and little does she know there's a load of heroin in the trunk.
Undoubtedly the best part of the film is the team of Morgan Freeman and Chris Rock playing a father-son hit squad out to recover the drugs. Freeman plays the straight man to Rock's acerbic son who wants nothing more than to get their cross-country road trip in search of Betty over with. All the while, Freeman owns his scenes by trying to play Columbo and read Betty's mind while staring at a photograph of her. These guys are simply unstoppable when they're on the screen.
So is Miss Zellweger, after this and My, Myself & Irene, going to make a living out of playing half-deranged nuts? With Bridget Jones' Diary in the works, it certainly looks like it. Zellweger is in fine form here, even if Freeman and Rock steal the show.
Nurse Betty isn't LaBute's masterpiece, but it's definitely a solid, funny, and unique film, the likes of which you won't see again this year. If your tastes run to the truly eccentric, this should tide you over until the real Coen brothers movie, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, comes out later this year.
Nurse Betty's DVD release is chock full of extras, including two commentary tracks (the best one features most of the cast and LaBute), trailer and promo spots, deleted scenes (deleted for good reason, we soon see), and several much talked-about clips from A Reason to Love itself. Also of note: several hidden features with alternate scenes secreted within. Highly recommended.
Run time: 110 mins
In Theaters: Friday 8th September 2000
Box Office USA: $25.0M
Distributed by: USA Films
Production compaines: USA Films, Gramercy Pictures, Intermedia
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 84%
Fresh: 109 Rotten: 21
IMDB: 6.3 / 10
Director: Neil LaBute
Screenwriter: John C. Richards, James Flamberg
Starring: Renée Zellweger as Betty Sizemore, Morgan Freeman as Charlie, Chris Rock as Wesley, Greg Kinnear as Dr. David Ravell/George McCord, Aaron Eckhart as Del Sizemore, Tia Texada as Rosa Hernandez, Crispin Glover as Roy Ostery