Directed by Neil Labute, Nurse Betty isnt a dramatic departure for the critically acclaimed and controversial Labute. The writer and director of the often vicious but never boring Your Friends and Neighbors and the film that elicited a firestorm of criticism for its misogynist story line In The Company of Men left some wondering if the Mormon raised Labute had nothing but contempt for society. Well here with the help of writers John Richards and James Flamberg he shows that hes capable of having fun if not being down right playful at times. But his desire to provoke still lingers. And thats a good thing.
The film tells the story of a small town waitress resigned to a dull and plodding life who suffers a trauma, resulting in kind of shell shock.
The painfully sincere but always likable, Renee Zellweger is terrific as Betty the waitress. She wants so little out of life youre left amazed at what shell settle for. That would be her husband Del. Aaron Eckhart is at his most loathsome here. And given the array of characters hes played thats saying something. Like the fictional Woody Allen character Zelig, Eckhart has the uncanny ability to completely alter his physical appearance from film to film. Here he appears as the despicable Del, the Mullet hair cut and oversized spectacles framing a Neanderthal face. When he uses the curtains as a napkin youll wince and laugh at the same time. But for all his faults its Dell who gets the picture rolling with a really bad plan.
Beginning in Kansas the allusions to Dorothy and the Wizard of Oz are numerous. What starts out as a slightly odd film gets stranger yet as Betty believes shes the fiancee of a fictional soap opera character. To quote Hunter S. Thompson, when the going gets weird the weird turn pro.
Morgan Freeman is excellent as the contemplative hit man, given to delusional visions. Chris Rock plays his volatile sidekick, a sort of hit man in training. Rock while not a brilliant actor still managed to provide plenty to smile about. He had me convulsing with laughter a number of times.
Perhaps my favorite actor of the eighties Crispin Glover has a supporting role as a small town reporter. While the performance in itself isnt remarkable Im just glad to see hes back on the screen and not out on the street where he could hurt someone.
Leaving the screening of Nurse Betty the audience seemed stunned. Unsure if they were watching a comedy, a drama or something else altogether many were clearly out of their comfort zone. Which is always a good thing. I dont want a formulaic plot where your lowest expectations are consistently fulfilled. This film is challenging, surprising and ultimately rewarding. Im Erik Petersen for Movie Magazine.
© 2000 - Erik Petersen - Air Date: 9/13/00
USA - 2000