The Bottom Line
After her husband's brutal murder, a small town waitress (Renee Zellweger) heads off for Los Angeles to meet her soap opera crush (Greg Kinnear) - only she thinks he really is a doctor! Meanwhile, her husband's killers (Morgan Freeman and Chris Rock) give chase.
The Rest Of The Story
Diner waitress Betty Sizemore (Zellweger) is a big fan of "A Reason to Love", but more importantly, she has a big crush on Dr. Revell. No, not Greg Kinnear's actor character George McCord - Dr. Revell himself. She knows it's silly, but when the movie reveals her husband to be a sleazy, adulterous used-car salesman (played with charismatic redneck one-dimensionality by Aaron Eckhart), one can more than understand Betty's escapism.
Unfortunately, Del has been doing business with the wrong people lately, and now two men (Freeman and Rock) have come to town to collect. After a horrific death sequence (involving a rather famous Native American barbershop ritual), Betty emerges from her hiding spot. The town's sheriff (a no-nonsense Pruitt Taylor Vince) and main beat reporter Roy (a forward-thinking, ever neurotic Crispin Glover), stop by and try to console Betty, but she seems ignorant of the whole event. Instead she packs a small bag, gets in the car she borrowed from Del earlier that day, and takes off to parts unknown.
At a stop in Arizona, Betty reveals her new plan: to go woo and win Dr. Revell. The bartender thinks she means McCord, but Betty is adamant about her love for the doctor. At the same time, Freeman and Rock find out that the money they had come for was in the used car Betty took, and set off after her. Meanwhile, arriving in Los Angeles, Betty tries to get a job as a nurse, but is rejected - until she performs a life-saving maneuver in the middle of a shootout. She gets the job, and the grateful sister of her patient gives her a place to stay, and a chance to meet McCord.
When Betty meets McCord, however, she thinks he's the good doctor, and begins speaking to him as if in character. He and the other soap workers think she's trying to win a part, and give her one for her convincing turn. McCord even deigns to go on a date or two with her, but ultimately we learn his motive: his character is about to be killed off, and he thinks she can extend his life on the show.
In the meantime, the two bounty hunters get closer and closer to Betty, but a strange thing is happening: the elder is falling in love. He's old, and this is his last mission, and his strange sentimentalities begin affecting. Try as he might, the younger bandit can't keep the old man focused.
Will Betty make it in her small screen debut? Will she snap out of her soap opera fantasy? Will love truly conquer all? You'll just have to watch to find out.
Essentially, Nurse Betty is a movie about fantasy in the face of harsh reality. The movie begins with a melodramatic scene in a hospital, where a Dr. David Revell (Kineear) fights off the advances of a seductive nurse before a huge emergency bursts through the doors behind him. Anyone with no context to the movie might presume that this is the setting of Nurse Betty - until the camera pans back to reveal it's merely a soap opera being watched in a podunk diner in Texas.
Fresh off his minor indie hit Your Friends & Neighbors, director Neil Labute has crafted here a wonderful synergistic piece about how people's motives are almost always hidden by their actions. Here, a washed up actor leads on a romantic interest to further his career; a Texas waitress gets a job as a nurse to become closer to a doctor she thinks works at the hospital; and a hitman falls in love with someone he plans to rob. In one way or another, all of these people have an idealized view of their life, and will do anything to achieve it. It's not exactly your typical Cinderella story, but the parallels exist.
Of course, it's Betty's parasocial relationship that drives the picture and all of its characters. When she flirts with a cardboard cutout of the doctor at the beginning of the film, we giggle somewhat shamelessly, no doubt guilty of similar excesses in our daydreams. Yet her psychosis steps over the line after Del's murder, and she heads off to Los Angeles to meet Dr. Ravell. Somehow this sits well with us, the audience. After all, she has led a fairly mundane and often downright ignoble life to date; why can't she just have a little fun? Somehow we refuse to stigmatize her for her journey, because we've all had the same dream before. Here, we have an excuse to vicariously visit all of our heroes and imagined lovers. Betty is never faking her illness, but one can't imagine she was actually upset by Del's murder; she really just slipped into her obvious backup plan.
Some people claim the film is full of "gratuitous gore" and extreme profanity. However, there's only one scene that deserves the former title, and while admittedly it is somewhat brutal and disturbing, it was there to show the difference between the two bounty hunters: the older, wiser hunter playing good cop, more of a talker, versus his son, the brash bad cop, who acts on a whim to make his point. As for the profanity (also mostly coming from Chris Rock, who shines throughout), the film is motivated by this battle between dreamers and realists. The dreamers often say things that might come straight out of a Zig Ziglar workshop, while the hardened realists set a harsh counterpart with their mouths. This gives the film a stylized and highly episodic feel - somewhat akin to the soap operas it perforates throughout.
My Rating: 7 out of 10. Perhaps a bit too quaint, but the humor is warm and humane, and the story is nothing if not original.
John C. Richards
Morgan Freeman .... Charlie
Renée Zellweger .... Betty Sizemore
Chris Rock .... Wesley
Greg Kinnear .... Dr. David Ravell/George McCord
Aaron Eckhart .... Del Sizemore
Tia Texada .... Rosa Hernandez
Crispin Glover .... Roy Ostery
Pruitt Taylor Vince .... Sheriff Eldon Ballard
Allison Janney .... Lyla Branch
Kathleen Wilhoite .... Sue Ann Rogers
Elizabeth Mitchell .... Chloe Jensen
Susan Barnes .... Darlene
Harriet Sansom Harris .... Ellen
Sung Hi Lee .... Jasmine
Laird Macintosh .... Dr. Lonnie Walsh/Eric