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Laramie Movie Scope:
Nurse Betty

No fish were harmed in the making of this film

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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September 22, 2000 -- "Nurse Betty" looks like a Hollywood attempt at a cult film. It has plenty of edge and it is off the wall in a calculated kind of way. It is cleverly written, but is a bit slow moving for a screwball black comedy. It could have been a truly great film in more sure hands, but it just misses the mark.

Renée Zellweger ("Me, Myself and Irene") stars as Betty Sizemore, the long-suffering wife of used car dealer Del. The shock of witnessing the murder of Del, causes her to go into a fugue state, a dissociative disorder in which she is disconnected from reality. Believing herself to be a character in a soap opera "A Reason to Love," she goes off to California in search of her long-lost love, the star of the show Dr. David Ravell.

Of course there is no Dr. Ravell, just an actor, George McCord (played by Greg Kinnear of "You've Got Mail"). During her search, she is able to land a job in a hospital which happens to serve as the fictional home of the soap opera (and of the real soap opera "General Hospital"). Despite the fact that she is obviously nuttier than a fruitcake, she makes contact with McCord and starts working her way into the soap opera world, where fact and fiction mix together in a very strange way.

On the trail of Betty are a couple of hired killers, Charlie (Morgan Freeman of "Deep Impact") and Wesley (Chris Rock of "Dogma"). During their investigation, Charlie becomes enchanted by the beauty, grace and innocence of Betty, while Charlie thinks the older man is going out of his mind. Charlie is a thoughtful man, given to considering the meaning of his violent life, while Wesley lives in the moment. The tension between the two, and Charlie's quest to understand Betty, give the story an added texture.

Freeman and Rock are very good as the killers and Zellweger is perfect as the moonstruck midwesterner (she's from Kansas) working La La Land. It is funny watching Crispin Glover ("People Vs. Larry Flynt") trying to play a more or less normal person, Roy, a small town newsman. Tia Texada, who plays Betty's roommate, Rosa, adds a bit of reality to the story and Greg Kinnear, as usual, hits just the right note of self-absorption and arrogance as the soap star. Aaron Eckhart does a good job of playing Betty's sleazy husband.

There's a certain formality and stiffness in the direction of the film by Neil LaBute, but unlike his previous films ("Your Friends & Neighbors" and "In the Company of Men,") this film is not relentlessly depressing, and it is not centered on sex. Oh, there's a little sex in it and there is some serious violence too (a man is scalped and there is a deadly shootout), but compared to LaBute's earlier films this is practically a Doris Day film (Day is actually referred to in the film). The way this film plays with the dividing line between reality and fantasy in the wacky world of soap operas reminded me a little of "Soapdish." I especially like the part where Crispin Glover's character tries to rescue some fish in the middle of a deadly gun battle. Only in Hollywood.

The film is a little slow moving, but it is also quite funny. Charlie's character is very poignant. He actually believes the people he murders "had it coming," but he knows that's not true of Betty. Freeman's fine performance makes it seem that in another time, another place, he and Betty could have danced and romanced in some tropical paradise. It's a nice touch, but it feels out of place, like the tail of a fish grafted onto the arm of a man. He might be able to swim fast, but it would look ridiculous. The violence and the comedy just don't mix all that well. This film rates a B.

Click here for links to places to buy this movie in video and/or DVD format, the soundtrack, books, even used videos, games and lots of other stuff. I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2000 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at my last name at lariat dot org. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)