Nurse Betty is a somewhat unexpected choice for director Neil LaBute, whose previous features were the chillingly pessimistic view of the corporate male, In The Company Of Men, and the misanthropic chamber piece Your Friends & Neighbors. Not only is this the first film that he hasn't written himself, it's also the first which, in the sweetly naïve Betty, has anything like a wholly sympathetic character. But fans of LaBute's deliciously malicious vision won't be disappointed with this entertaining, offbeat black comedy.
Initially, the script's use of Betty's semi-amnesiac, alternative reality smacks of preposterous plot device, but it's not as far-fetched as it sounds. The condition, called a fugue, is a rare but documented psychological reaction to an extreme trauma, and it's evident that both LaBute and screenwriters John C Richards and James Flamberg have done their homework on it.
LaBute also successfully toys with ideas of skewed perceptions and of the lure of celebrity, and the people Betty meets along the way create their own realities to explain her. To Charlie (Morgan Freeman), she's an intriguing criminal mastermind about who he begins to obsess (the least believable aspect of the narrative); to George McCord (Greg Kinnear), the actor who plays Dr David Ravell, she's a remarkably tenacious aspiring actress. The slightly bland Renée Zellweger is perfect as the embodiment of `nice' and the blank canvas onto which people project their own interpretations.
Comedian Chris Rock is also unexpectedly good as Wesley, giving a controlled performance rather than the hamming of his last film, Dogma. And LaBute, released from the theatrical interiors of his last two pictures, uses the dramatic landscapes of middle America to great effect, creating his most cinematic work to date.
Funny, smart and hugely enjoyable, Nurse Betty is a welcome dose of intelligent, thought-provoking cinema. With a likeable performance from Renée Zellweger in the central role, and a great supporting cast, it's a shot in the arm for the road movie genre.