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Nurse Betty

A Visual Lobotomy

By Ryan Klimczak

Directed by Neil LaBute and Jean-Yves Escoffier

Produced by Gail Mutrux and Steve Golin

Written by John C. Richards and James Flamberg

Starring: Renee Zellweger, Morgan Freeman,

Greg Kinnear, Chris Rock, Aaron Eckhart

Rated R

For Betty Sizemore, a small town coffee shop waitress, life persists as a meaningless repetition of American grassroots responsibilities and endless subordination to her infidel used-car salesman husband Del. Living vicariously through her favorite soap opera, A Reason to Love, she adopts this empty existence until she witnesses the savage murder of her husband (Aaron Echkart) at the hands of Charlie and his temperamental protÉgÉ Wesley, two hit men played by Morgan Freemen and Chris Rock. Traumatized, Betty, played by Jerry Maguire’s RenÉe Zellweger, assumes an alternate personality in what is described as “post-traumatic dissociation.”

Betty becomes Nurse Betty, a relentless, obsessed figure determined to return to the love of her life, A Reason to Love’s Dr. David Revell (Greg Kinnear). Betty leaves Kansas for Los Angeles, unknowingly tracked by the hit men who are in search of the cocaine hidden in her car.

The “soap opera groupie deranged fan” eventually makes contact with Dr. Revell’s associates and the hit men ultimately find her, in what becomes a culmination of impossible coincidences, neurotic misconceptions, and just plain weird situations.

From the director of In the Company of Men and Your Friends and Neighbors comes this incoherent, but clever tale of bold experimentation and black humor. Reminiscent of such movies as Being There and To Die For, the entire film contains an irrational plot filled with hilarious remarks and corny lines. Chris Rock shoulders the bulk of this film’s humor with his blatant, dark outbursts and no-nonsense impatience. Rock’s comedic power coupled with Morgan Freeman’s somber acting create a hysterical mix of personalities.

“I’m a professional. I’m in goddamn purgatory.”

“Worse, you’re in Texas.”

Much of the humor in this movie is not provided by its proximity to reality, but by the opposite. Nurse Betty is an outlandish presentation of a far-fetched story (quoted even by one of the film’s actors as being “bizarre for Hollywood”). In many ways this film can be considered as a soap opera: unrealistic, melodramatic, illogical, and Greg Kinnear and RenÉe Zellweger are both cheesy and corny. Strangely enough, this was exactly director Gary LaBute’s approach. He hired crew who work predominantly on soap operas to film the soap opera sequences, while a film crew worked on the movie scenes. As a result, A Reason to Love approximated the look of a real daytime series.

The character of Nurse Betty was somewhat successfully portrayed by Zellweger. At times her acting became awkward because she was unable to carry some of the emotionally intense scenes of the movie, such as her witnesses to Del’s murder or when she is held at gunpoint. She fails to express emotions that are expected from such events. Expecting timidity, fear, and tears, we are met by a near-indifferent face and oblivious disposition. In contrast, Morgan Freeman gave a brilliant performance in this movie as the hit man Charlie. He was able to express a consistent and straightforward approach, unlike Zellweger’s bipolar acting.

The characters in this film all stray from the norm and Neil LaBute directed them somewhat successfully, especially considering the actors’ inexperience with such outlandish situations. Overall, this film does contain an original script which consequently earned Nurse Betty Best Screenplay at the Cannes International Film Festival. Its absurdity proves to be its greatest strength. In the comical and terse words of Wesley, essentially this movie is about “some skinny white bitch from Kansas [and] some stupid white soap opera.”