'Nurse Betty' Is Just What the Doctor Ordered

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'Nurse Betty' Is Just What the Doctor Ordered

Some may have thought "Nurse Betty" was difficult to categorize. Stark elements of realism in opposition to the light humor can definitely leave you wondering how to feel.

But it is precisely this quality of the film that allows director Neil Labute to engage the viewer. The idea of something dark lurking beneath a surface of light is an intriguing concept and perhaps shown most graphically in David Lynch's "Blue Velvet." For that matter, whether you see it as a dark comedy or a light romantic comedy, it is the peculiarity of this enjoyable movie that gives it originality, and the dead-on casting of roles which allows the actors and actresses to shine.

Humble waitress Betty Sizemore (Renee Zellweger) has never ventured outside her hometown, much less pursued any of her dreams. There is no love in her forlorn marriage, but too sweet to complain, she takes comfort in "A Reason To Love," the daily soap opera she watches religiously. She dreams of becoming, like her idols on the show, a nurse. Graceful and caring, she would indeed make the ideal nurse except that her sleazy Neanderthal husband, Dell, stands in the way.

One night when his attempted drug deal goes sour, she witnesses his brutal murder and is forced out of her habitual existence in an instinctive attempt to survive. Traumatized by the ordeal, she copes by stepping outside herself and entering a dream-like "fugue" state. With no recognition of reality, she mixes fact (her life) with fiction (her soap opera), and sets off on a journey in search of the star of the soap opera, who she believes is her long-lost fiancee. Unknown to her, the car that she uses for this quest contains a stash of drugs that the pursuing hit men (Morgan Freeman and Chris Rock) believe she is attempting to flee with.

Different from her mom character in "Jerry Maguire" and the street-smart heroine in the comedy "Me, Myself & Irene," Zellweger fills the bill as a faded downtrodden wife and truly outdoes any previous roles. With a combination of perkiness, Southern belle simplicity and a lot of slow pronunciation, she accomplishes the difficult task of coming off as pitiable but likable.

The dynamics among all the characters are well developed. Each is unique, yet all are similar in that they explore the fine line between fantasy and reality, a central theme throughout the movie. Just when you get comfortable with the dialogue, the scene undergoes a flash of the unexpected and illustrates this concept with the shock of a cold shower.

The hilarious miscommunication between the fictional Dr. David Ravell and Betty is particularly noteworthy. As the vain star George McCord, Greg Kinnear tastefully pokes fun at the out-on-the-edge, no-holds-barred training methods of those in the acting profession. Charmed by her dedication to playing the role of Nurse Betty day-in day-out, he mistakes her delusions for improvisational acting and believes her to be a die-hard performer. In reality, she is simply in an altered state of mind, not talented or ambitious as he believes, which perhaps suggests a parallel between artistic fervor and mental instability. In any case, the two views with which these characters see the same situation demonstrate how the perfectly normal in another light looks completely crazy.

Morgan Freeman is paired with foul mouthed Chris Rock to provide a not so witty exchange of sarcasm and insults. Freeman's refinement doesn't really go with Rock's one-liners, which are better suited to the stand-up comedy scene from which he came. But other characters such as the spastic and weird reporter played by Crispin Glover and the calculating director by Allison Janney are pluses in this well-done movie and fit smoothly with the wide range of other colorful characters. Opens on March 3.

by Joseph Kim

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