Nurse Betty

Nurse Betty seems like an odd choice for director Neil LaBute. His two other films, In the Company of Men and Your Friends and Neighbors were not exactly audience friendly fare. LaBute's films are full of hatred, despair, and generally unpleasant people. The characters disgust audiences, yet the performances LaBute elicits are compelling. Nurse Betty is his third film. It is the first one he did not write, and by far the most accessible.

Betty Sizemore (Renee Zellweger, The Bachelor, Me, Myself, and Irene) is the title character, a young, innocent waitress in a hopeless marriage. Her husband Del (LaBute regular Aaron Eckhart, Erin Brockovich, Any Given Sunday) is a used car salesman who had some bad business dealings. As a result, two assassins, Charlie (Morgan Freeman, Deep Impact, Hard Rain) and Wesley (Chris Rock, Dogma, Lethal Weapon 4) kill him. Betty witnesses the murder, and breaks with reality. She does not remember the murder at all. Instead, she believes that her favorite soap opera, A Reason to Love, is reality and that she loves Dr. David Ravell (Greg Kinnear, Loser, What Planet Are You From?), a character on the soap. Betty sets off to Los Angeles in search of who she believes is her ex-fiancee with Charlie and Wesley in pursuit. By the time she finally meets Ravell, he thinks she is an aspiring actress trying to get a role.

Many of the actors are playing what they play best. Kinnear gravitates towards roles where he is the nice guy on the surface and a jerk underneath. Freeman and Rock (unintentionally) symbolize the old and the new. Charlie has a great reputation as being efficient and reliable. He knows what he is doing, and wants to get the job done. Wesley is unfocused and impulsive. He does not have the discipline necessary to effectively carry out his job. This is Rock's closest role to serious drama, and he does need a little polishing. The script throws in enough one-liners for him to help people forget his raw performance. Zellweger's face is perfect for radiating innocence, and in this case, cluelessness. She tilts her head and purses her lips, and everything is okay. Basically, no one knows what to do with Betty, especially when they realize that Ravell is a character. She is completely oblivious to any attempts to bring her back to reality.

This is the first time LaBute is not directing from his own script. Nurse Betty is by John C. Richards, and James Flamberg. There are still some elements of classic LaBute within the story, characterwise. The element that Richards and Flamberg bring is a dark sense of humor to the proceedings. In addition to Betty, Wesley and a number of Betty's friends all religiously watch the soap. With so many characters, the script sometimes spreads things a little too thinly. Each character has their unique quirk, and in a sense, each one is living in their own fantasy world. But a quirk does not necessarily imply characterization. Charlie is the only fully developed character. The rest take their roles as far as they can before the story meanders them away. The basic concept of the story borders on the ridiculous. Part of the premise is that Betty can get away with so many things (working as a nurse being the prime example). This is also a weak point, since some of the things that she does and the actions (or inactions) of the people around here stretch the bounds of what anybody would do in similar situations.

Haro Rates It: Not Bad.
1 hour, 52 minutes, Rated R for strong violence, pervasive language, and a scene of sexuality.

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