nurse betty(2000)
director: neil labute
renee zellweger, greg kinnear, morgan freeman

. A comedy that begins with a bloody scalping and murder isn’t going to be the most lighthearted entertainment, but considering director Neil LaBute’s earlier films, it’s practically froth.

With movies like In the Company of Men and Your Friends and Neighbours, LaBute was interested in exploring the darker side of human nature, and the films were a sort of endurance test: How long can you endure the excruciating spectacle of people behaving so despicably? With Nurse Betty, the director allows for some real innocence and decency to surface, most of it concentrated in the title character, played by Renee Zellweger.

Zellweger is a small town Kansas waitress married to a philandering jerk, whose only comfort is an insipid medical soap opera set in an L.A. hospital. When two hit men, played by Morgan Freeman and Chris Rock, dispatch the husband in the aforementioned scalping, Betty is the only witness, and goes into a shocked delirium where she believes herself part of the melodramatic world of her soap opera. With the hit men on her trail, she sets off for L.A. and a reunion with her “ex-fiancee”, the hunk doctor hero of the soap, played with suave callousness by Greg Kinnear.

Zellweger’s Betty employs her dark eyes and near-constant squint to keep the audience from imagining too much is going on in her banal, traumatized mind, while Freeman and Rock steal the film, antagonizing each other as they obsess over their quarry. Considering LaBute’s work, though, it shouldn’t be a surprise that the most interesting, developed characters are the villains.