Nurse Betty

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Nurse Betty

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It's a credit to Renée Zellweger's performance as the unfailingly nice title character in Nurse Betty that what could have been a small-town caricature is not only fully realized, but burdened with an inexpressible sadness. In fact, it's to the credit of the film's excellent cast that Nurse Betty, a frustratingly tentative effort from director Neil LaBute (In The Company Of Men) and first-time screenwriters John C. Richards and James Flamberg, is as compelling as it is. Not a nurse but a small-town Kansas waitress, Zellweger snaps into a narratively convenient state of mental confusion after watching the murder of her loutish husband (Aaron Eckhart) at the hands of hitmen Morgan Freeman and Chris Rock. Confusing her own reality with that of her favorite soap opera, she sets off for Los Angeles, with Rock and Freeman close behind, in search of the fictional doctor (Greg Kinnear) she believes to be her fiancé. As both their searches intensify, so does Freeman's growing fixation on Zellweger. It's not hard to see what attracted LaBute to the project: The dialogue has an easy grace to it, and the film plays like one of his dark-corner-of-the-soul dramas filtered through Pee-wee's Big Adventure. But despite a cast—which also includes such welcome faces as Crispin Glover, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Tia Texada, and Allison Janney—with enough appeal to match Nurse Betty's blend of sweetness and dark comedy, it just doesn't quite work. Interactions between characters seem forced, however well-drawn the characters themselves, and many plot twists make little sense even by the film's own skewed logic. Even more bothersome is Nurse Betty's fear of commitment: Suggesting any number of themes, it ultimately backs away from all but the safest. With the help of reliable cinematographer Jean-Yves Escoffier (who even made Gummo look good), LaBute proves himself capable of more than just claustrophobic chamber pieces, and in the end, Nurse Betty's winning qualities, particularly its performances, are what linger. But it's hard to shake the sense that there's nothing more to it, and possibly even less, than meets the eye.

Filed Under: Film

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