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Nurse Betty (2000)

Starring Renee Zellweger, Morgan Freeman, Chris Rock, Greg Kinnear

Directed by Neal LaBute

Story by John C. Richards

Screenplay by John C. Richards and James Flamberg

USA Films

Rated R

Nursing rating 1 1/2 stars

Rating guide:
excellent = 4 stars; good = 3 stars;
fair = 2 stars, poor = 1 star

Artistic rating 3 stars

Good-natured waitress Betty Sizemore (Renee Zellweger) would like to continue her nursing education, but she is trapped in a dead marriage to loutish used car dealer Del (Aaron Eckhart). Betty spends much of her time immersed in the soap opera "A Reason to Love" and fantasizing about one of its main characters, heart surgeon David Ravell, played by actor George McCord (Greg Kinnear). But after witnessing a horrifying encounter between her husband and an unusual pair of hit men (Morgan Freeman and Chris Rock) while watching an episode of the soap in her Kansas home, Betty suffers a psychological break. Not remembering what has happened, and now convinced that she is Ravell's ex-fiancee, "Nurse Betty" sets off to find "Dr. Ravell" at his fictional Los Angeles hospital. The hit men follow.

"Nurse Betty" is a well-written, somewhat violent comedy about the nature of illusion and male-female relations. The basic theme of an innocent put at risk by her illusions is not new, but the plot takes clever twists and the script features intriguingly odd characters and situations. Zellweger handles a deceptively difficult role, as she must spend much of the film in one kind of walking dream state or another, yet convey enough consciousness that the audience still cares. Freeman is very good as the perhaps too thoughtful senior hitman, Rock provides comic balance as his belligerent, not-quite-in-control sidekick, and Kinnear and Allison Janney, who plays soap producer Lyla, present a persuasively unpleasant vision of life inside a Hollywood soap opera.

Despite its title, "Nurse Betty" is not particularly concerned with nurses or health care generally. The film's surface premise is that of a confused would-be nurse desperately seeking to marry an idealized version of a physician. What's really going on is more complex, and the film's early scenes do liberate Betty from the man blocking her career path, but the basic premise may linger in many viewers' minds. The vision of nursing presented in the soap opera scenes is predictably regressive and insulting, with OR nurses pausing to adjust their makeup while cooing over the pressures placed on the heroic surgeon. The film clearly conveys its contempt for the writing and acting on the soap, but does not make any particular effort to do the same for the soap's portrayal of nursing. Betty does, through a bizarre series of events, help save a real patient's life by decompressing a tension pneumothorax--a technique she has evidently seen on the soap--and her encounter with a real hospital's "Chief Nurse" does at least make clear that nursing job applicants must supply resumes and references. Things do not work out as viewers might expect between Betty and "Dr. Ravell," and nursing does ultimately receive a kind of endorsement from the film. Still, it's hard to see how anyone would come away from it with any real understanding of or appreciation for what modern nurses do, and it's not surprising that the American Nurses Association declined a request to help promote the film when it was released.

Reviewed by Harry Jacobs Summers
Nursing Editor: Sandy Summers, MSN, MPH, RN
Reviewed January 2, 2003

The views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect those of the Board Members or Advisory Panel of The Truth About Nursing.

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