Monday, December 26, 2005

Nurse Betty: Good For What Ails You

After my snarky post about "Sideways", which everyone in the world seemed to like but me, I feel compelled to point the way to a movie that is much better in almost every aspect. It's been out for almost six years now, but it's a real winner: "Nurse Betty". I know it sort of disappeared from sight soon after release, and on viewing it last night (I gave it to my wife for Christmas) it's easy to see why. It is unclassifiable, and yet it transcends the neat and tidy slots most movie goers want their entertainment to fit in to work well on so many levels.

It stars Morgan Freeman, Renée Zellweger, Chris Rock, and Greg Kinnear, with some great supporting performances by Crispin Glover (if you look up "quirky" in Webster's you'll see his picture), Tia Texada, and Pruitt Taylor Vince. This is a dark, dark comedy, as well as a rumination on redemption and hope, which made me laugh and think (a combination that is rare in the era of grossout comedy.)

Like "Pulp Fiction", its central characters include two hit men, one of whom is on the eve of his retirement. The journey these two take in pursuit of Betty, who has no clue that they are after her, is one that wanders through the heartland of America, a place that is far more dangerous in its ignorance than these killers imagine. Indeed, Betty comes from Kansas, the symbol of George Bush's core of support, and one of the characters even refers to her as "Dorothy" in a nod to the "Wizard of Oz".

There are fine performances from all, but Morgan Freeman is a real gem, playing his character as a man waking from a dream, whose life to that point has been lived in a numb coolness that is turning into awareness of the goodness and beauty in his surroundings. Greg Kinnear is note on perfect as the soap opera star who does a reverse transformationn from nice guy to utter asshole. And Renée Zellweger is utterly beguiling as the "Alice in Wonderland"-type naif who is trust into the rabbit hole by events far beyond her experience and understanding, but who through tenacity and mental illness manages to rise above it all and transform herself.

Go back and find this movie if you can. It is a great piece of film making, and deserves to be seen and enjoyed.

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