8 September 2000 | tedg
A New Step in Mass Media Layering
The Bad: The gimmick of this film, as with very many, is contrast. This time its the well-exercised contrast between mindless brutality and open, honest innocence. What's new is the ratcheting up of the extremes. The violence is a new extreme in this context. How much more can we escalate? Is our own innocence so permanently numb?
The Good: This film is remarkably sophisticated in its self-referential layering. Here is an indicator that in this category at least the general intelligence level in the US is rising. It takes real abstract thinking to appreciate this, and one imagines that an audience in the 80s would be thoroughly puzzled.
Simple films with theatric self-reference usually mix real life with a play-within-the-play. "Shakespeare in Love" and "illuminata" are of this ilk. Slightly more complex is real life within the play as with "The Truman Show." But here we have a new and lovely evolution, six layers of self-reference.
We have the layer of the real-life Renee and her film character. I am in no doubt that the marketing of Renee as the new America's Sweetheart is the real basis of this effort. So Renee playing the public Renee. Then we have Renee playing Betty. We are lead to believe that the three are simultaneously real. But this has been common for 75 years.
What's new is Betty "becoming" Nurse Betty. Another layer, and then full circle as the "real" nurse Betty becomes the play Nurse Betty. This last is assumed before it actually happens. Finally, we have Freeman's fantasy angel Betty, which we assume is the root of all the conflated layers. That makes six layers by my count. Think about it: this film requires a sophisticated viewer. As it will likely be a big hit, that sophistication must exist in the masses. Wonderful!
Incidentally, only two people in this film can act, and one is not Chris Rock. What's with this guy?