Zellweger in Love

Nurse Betty ain't Shakespeare, but Neil LaBute's riff on shallow fantasies comes close

You had me at "hello": Zellweger carries Nurse Betty...and a cutout Kinnear.
You had me at "hello": Zellweger carries Nurse Betty...and a cutout Kinnear.

If LaBute has a second gift, it's selecting and directing fine actors, and even Eckhart avoids merely punching the clock. Rock is extremely funny, ladling his venom on whomever is available, calling Freeman "Bojangles" and (in the movie's most implausible scene), spewing his adolescent theories of murder all over Betty's saltine-cracker grandparents in their sitting room. As with most of the characters here, he feels like an open wound seeking a balm, which makes the curses and conflicts all the more amusing and touching. The exchanges between Zellweger and Kinnear also pack the most ticklish sort of discomfort, as she courts her dream man with unflinching sincerity, just as Freeman loses his sense of gravity to swoon for her. Ultimately, the ending of Nurse Betty is absurd, but, because along the way happiness is revealed to be a very complex arrangement, it avoids being pat. One feels the hope in the trenches when Rosa consoles Betty: "I just want you to get your fairy tale ending. At least one of us should." It may be a while before someone transcribes Nurse Betty into rhyming couplets, but the movie is brave enough to allow its intrepid heroine to jettison our national cynicism and pessimism somewhere along Route 66. That, in itself, makes it a story worth remembering.

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