"Nurse Betty" is a fantastic, whimsical, absurd, funny, and truly heartwarming film about two hopeless romantics in pursuit of their dreams... which is in stark contrast to the type of films usually associated with director Neil LaBute, who has built his career with films that peered unflinchingly into the darkest recesses of the human psyche, namely "In the Company of Men" and "Your Friends & Neighbors". And though "Nurse Betty" is uncharacteristically optimistic in its execution, director LaBute infuses this fairy-tale with just the right amount of cynicism to ensure that the humor is black and the 'happy ending' is not only surprising, but well-earned.
The titular character is Betty Sizemore (Renée Zellweger of "Me, Myself, and Irene"), a sweet and innocent housewife/waitress who has lived all her life in a small Kansas town. Unfortunately, Betty is married to scumbag used car salesman Del (Aaron Eckhart of "Erin Brockovich"), who not only treats her like dirt, but brazenly carries on an affair under her nose. With such an empty life, Betty turns to the soap opera "A Reason to Love" for comfort, and she is an ardent fan of character Dr. David Ravell (Greg Kinnear of "What Planet Are You From?").
However, when Betty inadvertently witnesses the death of her husband at the hands of two hitmen, Charlie (Morgan Freeman of "Deep Impact") and Wesley (Chris Rock of "Dogma"), the trauma of the event triggers a delusional state in which she believes that the events in "A Reason to Love" are real, and that she is the long-lost love of Dr. Ravell. Driven by such an overpowering fantasy, Betty sets out to Los Angeles to 'reclaim' her heart surgeon ex-fiance. Of course, this immediately cast suspicion on her for the murder of her husband in the eyes of the town's sheriff (Pruitt Taylor Vince of "Legend of 1900") and a nosy reporter (Crispin Glover of "Back to the Future").
To make matters worse, Betty is followed by Charlie and Wesley, who want to not only eliminate the only witness to the crime, but also recover some stolen loot in the trunk of her car. Fortunately, Betty manages to find some unexpected help along the way in the form of a feisty Latina roommate (Tia Texada of "The Thirteenth Floor") and the producer of "A Reason to Love" (Allison Janney, who plays C.J. on TV's "The West Wing").
For those of you familiar with the unsettling films of director Neil LaBute, "Nurse Betty" will come as a shock. The John Richards and James Flamberg-penned script works hard to make the characters likable, especially the ones standing in the way of Betty's Capra-esque journey into Hollywood. And unlike LaBute's previous two offerings, which focused on the 'garbage of humanity', "Nurse Betty" is a celebration of the aspirations of hopeless romantics, juxtaposing Betty's search for a fictional character to Charlie's obsession with vindicating his beliefs in Betty's 'pure' qualities which have been lacking in his own life. With pathos and bathos in good supply and mixed with relative ease, "Nurse Betty" manages to be both scornful and touching at the same time.
Part of the reason why the film works so well lies in the film's terrific cast. Zellweger, who dazzled audiences a few years ago in "Jerry Maguire", is the glue that holds "Nurse Betty" together. Her earnest and moving performance brings the sincerity and vulnerability of Betty to life, making her a delight to watch. If Zellweger's performance doesn't make your grin from ear-to-ear throughout the film's running time, then check to see if you still have a pulse.
In addition, Freeman and Rock are perfect foils for each other in their veteran-rookie pairing-- whereas Charlie waxes philosophical on Betty's motivations, Wesley's smart mouth always has something funny to say about it, and these two actors share a terrific comic chemistry in their scenes together. Freeman also does a marvelous job in one of the film's closing scenes, as his character reluctantly finds that his circumstances are quickly outdistancing his worthy ambitions. Kinnear, who convincingly played the bland and arrogant Captain Amazing in "Mystery Men", brings his skills to bear in playing soap actor George McCord, who isn't anything like Betty expects him to be. Finally, the film is topped off with a number of memorable supporting players, including terrific turns from Taylor, Glover, and Texada.
With some truly soulful performances, a witty script, and some genuine surprises, "Nurse Betty" is easily one of the best films of 2000, and should be on everyone's must-see list. On the one hand, there are some truly poignant observations being made in "Nurse Betty", but on the other, it never forgets to entertain the audience at the same time. Follow that "Nurse"!