10 August 2001 | DeeNine-2
Cute, edgy and very funny
This is an adorable, if somewhat edgy, comedy from a clever and witty script by John C. Richards, crisply directed by the very talented Neil LaBute, proving that he can handle comedy just as adroitly as he can the art house movie.
Renée Zellweger stars as Betty Sizemore, a sort of Doris Day of the 21st century, a waitress from Kansas whose fantasy life centers around Dr. David Ravell (Greg Kinnear), star of a TV soap opera called, "A Reason to Live," to such a fanatical degree that she has memorized lines from the show after watching the tapes over and over again. (This will come in handy later on.)
Morgan Freeman and Chris Rock play a father-son team of cocaine-dealing hit men who ignite the premise of the movie by murdering Betty's slimy used car salesman husband, played by Aaron Eckhart, who starred in In the Company of Men (1997), also directed by Neil LaBute. Chris Rock is a comedic psychopath, and Freeman a fatherly murderer whose favorite dictum is "three in the head, you know they're dead." One of the amazing and characteristic things about Morgan Freeman is that even while playing a professional criminal, he manages to sound like the wisest, gentlest man you ever knew.
True, the plot relies heavily on co-incidence (Betty copping the keys to the Buick that just happens to have the goods in the trunk), precise timing (meeting Dr. David and entourage at exactly the right moment), and some questionable psychology (Betty's partial and convenient amnesia). But such contrivances should be written off as poetic license and ignored. After all, who would criticize Shakespeare for the tortured plots of his comedies? More significantly, what makes this work is the cleverness of the plot melded well with the personalities of the characters (while gently satirizing them), and some very funny dialogue. My favorite line is when Freeman, looking gravely at a picture of the disappeared little miss Nurse Betty, soberly remarks to Rock, "We may be dealing with a cunning, ruthless woman here." I wonder, could it be that some of the pseudonymous (and humorless) reviewers who trashed this movie here and at IMDb are jealous, out-of-work screen writers?
An observation and a question: Renée Zellweger has the kind of on-screen presence to delight the most jagged heart. And who really is the reigning queen of contemporary filmland comedy, Zellweger or Reese Witherspoon? They are both brilliant. Witherspoon is a little more over the top while Zellweger is more impish. It would be interesting to see them trade roles, say, Zellweger as goody-goody A-student Tracy Flick in Election (1999) and Witherspoon as Nurse Betty. Too bad something like that can't be done.
Incidentally, the song, "Ca Sera, Sera" heard in the background won an academy award for best song in the Hitchcock thriller, The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), starring James Stewart and Doris Day. The reason it reappears here is not entirely clear, but the resemblance of the wonderfully naive Nurse Betty to the on- and off-screen Doris Day (who also had a hit recording of "Ca Sera, Sera,") goes beyond the strawberry blond hair to a kind of irrepressible innocence. In Nurse Betty, however, the Doris Day world of white picket fences and monogamy is given a contemporary spin. Although this is to some extent a romantic comedy, it is one in which the answer to the question, Who gets the girl? is one never seen in a Doris Day flick.
Bottom line: if you can watch this without laughing old loud and crying some real tears, you need to get your hard drive fixed.
(Note: Over 500 of my movie reviews are now available in my book "Cut to the Chaise Lounge or I Can't Believe I Swallowed the Remote!" Get it at Amazon!)