Nurse Betty (2000) / Comedy-Drama
MPAA Rated: R for strong violence, pervasive language and a scene of sexuality
Running Time: 110 min.
Cast: Renee Zellweger, Morgan Freeman, Chris Rock, Greg Kinnear
Director: Neil LaBute
Screenplay: John C. Richards, James Flamberg
Review published September 11, 2000
If you were to look for a classic case of a subplot that all but ruins a potentially great film, Nurse Betty could be viewed as prime example number one.
Nurse Betty's main storyline revolves around a Kansas waitress who is so obsessed with her favorite soap opera, "A Reason to Love", that she aspires to become a nurse just like the ones in the hospital based serial. Her home life isn't much to speak of, with a cheating and lying husband who abuses her, and not much in the way of money. One day, a couple of hired thugs ice her husband due to his involvement in stolen drugs and Betty finds herself a witness to the gruesome death. However, she immediately goes into emotional trauma and begins to actually think that she is one of the nurses from the soap opera who was once engaged to the show's star surgeon, Dr. David Ravell (Kinnear, Mystery Men). She heads out to "Loma Vista" hospital, where the TV show is set, in order to get back together with the man she thinks she loves. However, the aforementioned thugs want to tie up any loose ends and set out to find Betty to keep her silent...for good.
Nurse Betty can be seen as a form of The Truman Show, except in reverse, whereby the main character is the one who believes the fiction despite the reality of her surroundings.. Zellweger is perfectly cast, and when she's onscreen she's so wholly sympathetic and endearing, one can't help but be charmed despite knowing the fact that in truth she is a very mentally sick woman. The main plotline involving her and George, the actor playing Dr. David Ravell (played in reality by Greg Kinnear), is where Nurse Betty scores the lion's share of it's points. In fact, if the entire movie were to be about nothing but this relationship, this might have been one of the best films of the year.
Unfortunately, the script by first-time writer John C. Richards (Sahara), seems determined to erase any points earned from these great scenes with a needless and counterproductively ugly subplot involving the search for Betty from the killers. The subplot conceptually may have worked had Morgan Freeman (Under Suspicion) been the only baddie, but Chris Rock's (Dogma) character is so poorly written and his performance so unrealistic, that it seriously detracts from the enjoyment of a charming and whimsically funny fairy-tale. Things really take a downturn in the final climax when the two stories merge, wherein the farcical script and much more serious directing don't quite jibe enough, and the result is humor that's not funny and violence that's not scary.
Nurse Betty is still worthwhile for the middle third, where Betty is onscreen the most. Zellweger carries the movie, and while Betty is described by Freeman's character as a type of modern-day Doris Day, after Zellweger's performance in Nurse Betty, maybe this description could also be applied to her as an actress as well. Nurse Betty is a disappointing missed opportunity at greatness, but entertainment can still be had despite the ugly and awful subplot.
©2000 Vince Leo