Renée Zellweger is ‘Nurse Betty’ on Peacock

Chris Rock, Morgan Freeman, and Renée Zellweger in 'Nurse Betty.' Photo credit: Universal Studios

Renée Zellweger is a soap-struck innocent who starts to believe her TV fantasy world and Morgan Freeman is the world weary hitman who falls in love with her as he chases her trail from Kansas to L.A. in Nurse Betty (2000).

Like a modern take on The Wizard of Oz, Zellweger’s Betty Sizemore is a Dorothy in a small town Kansas coffee shop. She’s perky, pretty, and sweetly sociable, but has checked out from her numbing marriage to a philandering used car salesman by imagining that she’s the true love of sensitive, haunted, oh-so handsome young Dr. Ravell on her favorite soap opera.

When two hitmen—deliberate, precise pro Charlie (Morgan Freeman) and his smart mouthed, excitable protégé Wesley (Chris Rock)—take out her husband, she’s sent over the rainbow and lands in Los Angeles believing that she’s Nurse Betty, Dr. Ravell’s long lost love back to reclaim her beau. She’s got two determined gunmen behind her, a flabbergasted soap star (Greg Kinnear) convinced she’s method acting through an elaborate audition, and the luck of an innocent keeping her safe from harm in the dangerous Oz of LA.

Filmmaker Neil LaBute is best known for his sour vision of predatory human relations but here, working from a script by first time scribes John C. Richards and James Flamberg, he offers an altogether more generous portrait. Sure, Eckhart plays a smarmy, misanthropic creep and Kinnear fine tunes his now patented narcissistic jerk to smug perfection, but LaBute turns true-hearted naïf Betty into more than simply a little lost innocent. The film could easily have descended into a mean spirited lampoon of a woman who confuses an escapist TV serial for real life, but it’s smarter and sharper than that.

Mirroring Betty’s journey is Freeman’s philosophical hitman Charlie, a clear headed career criminal who idealizes his target as a combination homespun innocent, sophisticated aesthete, and cunning nemesis. Laconic, quiet, with a world weary air effortlessly about him, Freeman has never been better.

Unfortunately there’s little satirical sting to the film, rather surprising from the usually cutting LaBute, and he lets a few glib twists drop with a thud, but those are minor caveats. He pulls the farce and the violence and the fantasies together with a deft touch and a sweetness rare in American films–especially his.

Tia Texada, Crispin Glover, Pruitt Taylor Vince, Elizabeth Mitchell, and Allison Janney costar.

It won the award for best screenplay at the Cannes Film Festival.

Rated R

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Nurse Betty [DVD]

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The DVD features two commentary tracks (one with Chris Rock and cast, the other with director Neil LaBute and crew), deleted footage, “A Reason to Love” soap opera episodes, and “hidden features” among its supplements.

Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears at, Turner Classic Movies online, The Film Noir Foundation, and Parallax View.

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