Betty’s such a sweet girl. She works at a diner in Kansas, and even though she watches her favorite soap opera while she’s working, she’s still on top of her job. Her coworkers love her, and the customers do too. To top it all off, she’s played by the unnaturally cute RenÃ©e Zellweger (“Jerry Maguire,” “Me, Myself & Irene”), so everyone instantly wants to carry her home and take care of her.
Obviously, something has to be wrong here.
The problem is her husband Del, played by Aaron Eckhart (“The Pledge,” “Erin Brockovich”). He’s a big sweaty nasty used car salesman, and the first time we meet him, he’s on top of his secretary. Meanwhile, Betty is the dutiful wife, taking care of the house and cooking his dinner in addition to holding down a job of her own.
[Warning: for the next few seconds, you may find that inescapable Dixie Chicks song running through your head. This is normal, and will pass quickly.]
Del is feeling particularly useless one night, even going so far as to eat the birthday cupcake that Betty’s coworkers had given her at her surprise party that day. He then goes out to “do some business,” after telling Betty to “clean this s— up.”
That’s right folks. Del had to die.
When Del comes home that night, he’s accompanied by two businessmen, played by Morgan Freeman (“Kiss the Girls,” “Se7en”) and Chris Rock (“Down to Earth,” “Dogma”). Del is negotiating the sale of something, but it sure isn’t a car. Whatever it is, he stole it, and these “businessmen” are actually hit men sent by the rightful owners.
Betty is peeking out from a back room, where she’s been watching a tape of her soap opera, “A Reason to Love,” and fawning over her favorite character, Dr. David Ravell. She watches as Del is killed in a somewhat gruesome manner, and at the same time listens to Dr. Ravell talk about his lost love that he knows is out there somewhere.
Betty goes a bit off the deep end at this point, deciding that Dr. Ravell is a real person and that she’s the lost love he’s been talking about. Convincing herself that Del is fine and that she left him, she sets off for California to find her long-lost love.
“Nurse Betty” is a film that refuses to belong to any one genre. It is primarily a comedy-drama, the story of an endearing though completely daft character not unlike Forrest Gump. However, just like in real life, there are sudden moments of violence and of tragedy.
Obviously, Betty can’t remain in her delirium forever, and the inevitable crash back to reality isn’t going to be pretty. What do you do when you suddenly realize that nothing is the way you thought it was, and that nobody is who you thought they were? Not to mention that, when dealing with such heavy questions, it doesn’t help to have hit men realize you’re a witness to a murder and follow you across the country to finish the job.
As with all good films, “Nurse Betty” does have something to say. Betty’s not the only one who isn’t exactly in touch with reality. Everyone in the film misunderstands everyone else, making assumptions that usually don’t fit the facts. People are used, abused, and hurt, but they also find some happiness in their lives. It’s not exactly a happy movie, but it’s not particularly sad either. It’s both – just like reality.
Beyond the central cast, Greg Kinnear (“Mystery Men,” “As Good As It Gets”) puts in a perfectly smarmy performance as actor George McCord (a.k.a. Dr. Ravell), and Crispin Glover, best known as George McFly in “Back to the Future,” is very well-cast as the mildly annoying small town crime reporter trying desperately to break a big case. They are all, of course, overshadowed by the performance of Morgan Freeman, who probably hasn’t done anything less than great acting since he was a toddler.
“Nurse Betty” won’t change your life, break your heart, or quicken your pulse. It will, however, make you care about Betty, a girl with a complicated life who’s tired of doing what she’s told.