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Moriarty's In Love With NURSE BETTY, And You Will Be, Too!!

Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some rumblings from the Lab.

You know, there are days when I really do feel like a cheerleader for certain companies or studios. The truth of the matter is, good decision making does tend to cluster. When a studio gets on a streak, it's like they're suddenly charmed. Right now, the most interesting young force in film production and releasing is USA Films. BEING JOHN MALKOVICH, TOPSY TURVY, PITCH BLACK, JOE GOULD'S SECRET, RIDE WITH THE DEVIL, Michael Winterbottom's WONDERLAND... these are all films of merit, with MALKOVICH probably standing as the company's finest achievement to date. I like the fact that there is a real hunger on the part of this company to establish artistic and commercial credibility, and missteps like THE MUSE or WHERE THE MONEY IS are just hiccups, anomalies in an otherwise strong and adventurous slate.

First things first, go check this trailer out. It's a really nice indication of the general look and feel of Neil LaBute's NURSE BETTY, a comedic fable that's being released on September 15th. LaBute is, of course, the guy who brought us the jet-black cruelty comedies IN THE COMPANY OF MEN and YOUR FRIENDS AND NEIGHBORS, both of which featured jaw-dropping moments of bleakness. As a result, I wasn't prepared for the dirty secret LaBute's been hiding this whole time...

The sonofabitch has a heart.

Admittedly, LaBute didn't write this film. No, the writers who shared the Best Screenplay honors at this year's Cannes festival are John C. Richards & James Flamburg, and it's a well-deserved bit of recognition for a script that takes potentially difficult material about a character who is traumatized to the point of a mental collapse and somehow weaves it into a shimmering, sweet, moving story about how we fall in love with the images of things rather than the reality of them.

At the heart of this film is a character that everything hinges upon. Either you will fall in love with Betty (Renee Zellweger) in the first five minutes she's onscreen, or you will not buy this film. It's that simple a case of chemistry. Personally, I can't imagine anyone who isn't drawn in, immediately stunned into submission by the intensity of the first shot of Betty Sizemore, her face framed in close-up, devoid of makeup. There's a splash of freckles across the bridge of her nose, her eyes more blue than they've ever seemed before, and there's a roundness to her face that seems more pronounced. She is piercingly adorable, and as we realize what it is that's got her attention, we begin piecing together who she is. She's watching her favorite soap opera, A REASON TO LOVE, as she works a shift at the local diner. She is taking care of various customers, including Charlie (Morgan Freeman) and Wesley (Chris Rock), never looking away from the screen, but also never missing a beat. She's been doing this for a long time. It's Betty's birthday, and when her co-workers surprise her with a cupcake sporting a solitary candle and a cutout cardboard lifesize standup of Dr. David Ravell she is moved to tears, and so were people I saw the film with.

Remember... this is five minutes into a Neil LaBute film. Amazing.

As we get a look at the daily life that Betty leads, it's fairly obvious why she uses her soap opera addiction to escape a less than ideal life married to a local used-car salesman, Del, played to sleazy perfection by Aaron Eckhart, rapidly becoming one of the funniest chameleons in film. He's introduced buried balls-deep in his secretary Joyce (Sheila Kelley) and up to his neck in some shady deal involving a stolen car and some big clients from out of town. Betty, hoping to go out with a friend for her birthday, mistakenly takes the stolen car for the evening. It's never missed, though. Del brings his out-of-town clients to the house, thinking Betty's gone for the night. She's not, though. She's watching a tape of her soap and tries to keep the volume down so Del and his "business" aren't interrupted.

What follows is a shocking, truly unnerving bit of violence, the blackest moment in the film. I've had a few people tell me that they think this mars what is otherwise an almost ethereal little character comedy. Nonsense. This is a crucial turning point, because Betty witnesses the moment, and it's such a significant shock for her that she simply folds in on herself, building a mental wall around the image, forgetting it completely. It has to be this brutal, this ugly, to justify a reaction as extreme as Betty's. As Betty's fugue state settles in, she finds herself fixated on one particular line of dialogue from her soap, a line delivered by the always-serious Dr. Ravell: "I just know there's something out there for me... something really special." Betty decides to finally leave her small town, leave her safe life, and go find that special something and claim it as her own.

By the time Charlie and Wesley realize the car they came for is missing, they have lost Betty's trail completely. Charlie, the old pro of the two, is convinced that Betty is eluding them on purpose, that she's aware of the game she's in the middle of. He begins to study her, fixate on her, trying to establish any connection that will help him locate her. As he does, he begins to invent a Betty in his mind that he is drawn to, even driven a little mad by. His look may not be different than normal (Freeman's the only guy I know who can get away with wearing a cowboy hat in anything he does), but the performance is rich and textured and utterly convincing, one of the finest of his career, and I suspect there's a Supporting Actor nomination in his future. As he and Wesley bounce off each other, frustrated in their search for Betty, there's real sparks between them. This is the best Rock has been so far on film, and it's due in large part to the fact that most of his scenes are with Freeman. He seems more centered, more real than he ever has before.

There's that word... "real." It means something different for each of these characters at different moments in the film. Betty invents an entire fantasy relationship between herself and Dr. Ravell that she believes in completely. She has no idea who George McCord is, and when she encounters people who confront her with the truth, with anything that intrudes on this fantasy she's built, she simply doesn't hear them. Her defenses are that complete. The truly magical thing about the way Betty moves through the film is just how long she manages to go unscathed. She charms everyone she meets, even after they figure out just how disassociated from reality she is. She ends up staying with a woman (Tia Texada) whose life intersects with Betty's in a startling and bloody manner. She meets George McCord and the writers and producers of A REASON TO LOVE at a cocktail party and they all fall under her spell, not realizing just how serious she is about the show. McCord actually starts to fall in love with her because he thinks she's some incredible method actress. Things just seem to keep spinning Betty's way, and she moves through it all seemingly oblivious. But once again... this is a film about how deceptive surfaces can be, and no one is exactly what they seem here. By showing us the faces people wear and then stripping them away, time and time again, the film makes its points in a variety of ways, never once laying the full metaphorical weight on Betty's shoulders.

But it's not the plot that makes this film great, as clever and as well-written as it is. It's the performances and the living, beating heart of the thing. Zellweger is a movie star of the highest order here, engaging from the first frame to the last. Freeman and Rock are great. Supporting characters played by actors like Crispin Glover and Pruitt Taylor Vince come to life in just a few scenes because of the confidence and quirk everyone brings to the table. The score by Rolfe Kent is memorably and infectious, providing perfect tonal support to this very tricky piece. The cinematography by Jean Yves Escoffier, who's done great work in films like GOOD WILL HUNTING, CRADLE WILL ROCK, and GRACE OF MY HEART, is somehow cartoonish but honest. The colors seem to leap off the screen, too bright and vivid to be mistaken for life, but the faces we see are all shot to make them real, rob them of the perfect sheen the movie screen can lend. We see imperfections, flaws, but they transform these characters into people that we know intimately by the end of the movie. LaBute has proven now that he is as strong a visual director as he is a verbal one, a leap forward that's comparable to the one David O. Russell made with THREE KINGS. As in his earlier work, he has a remarkable way with actors, and their trust in him is rewarded over and over in this film. Somehow, he manages to make this occasionally violent and dark story into something that just radiates sweetness and sunshine, and if you are able to walk out of a theater after seeing this, one of my very favorite films so far this year, without a grin splitting your face from ear to ear, then maybe you could stand a vacation from whatever it is that's made you too cynical to believe in love and change and the endless possibilities of life.

"Moriarty" out.

Readers Talkback
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  • Aug. 18, 2000, 10:47 a.m. CST

    crap.

    by grammarcop

    is it possible for any of you to write a review devoid of spoilers? at least give me fucking warning.

  • Aug. 18, 2000, 11:03 a.m. CST

    sounds awesome

    by Kumasashi

    Renee Z. is extremely cute and i don't like blonds that much (just a personal choice) i wasn't planning on seeing this based just on the trailer but i think i will now! thanx moriarty! Moriarty man SCHWAAAA!! brings movie rewiews to everyone with his SCHWAAA action! (i'm sorry that's getting old quick)

  • Aug. 18, 2000, 11:11 a.m. CST

    Agree with above

    by Lex

    At some point I had to stop reading the review as it became obvious that he was going to go through at least 75% of the plot.

  • Aug. 18, 2000, 11:25 a.m. CST

    "Ride With The Devil" SUCKED HARD

    by John Bigboote

    Damn, Moriarty, you almost blew your credibility there, right in your first full paragraph by lumping that turd in with some decent films. But "Nurse Betty" sounds and looks great. Can't wait to see it. Morgan Freeman and Chris Rock? I'm there.

  • Aug. 18, 2000, 11:28 a.m. CST

    P.S.: Spare the spoilers, dammit!

    by John Bigboote

    I forgot to mention: I agree with those Talk Backers complaining about the spoilers. You gave too much away about the movie, Moriarty, and I hope you don't let it become a habit. At least have the decency to warn people.

  • Aug. 18, 2000, 11:38 a.m. CST

    I admittedly don't like the preview very much, but I'll see anyt

    by Lenny Nero

    I think Renee Zellweger's finest moment was not Jerry Maguire, but One True Thing. I'm a guy, but I've never cried so much during one movie (well, ok...Iron Giant does a bit more with me). I love USA Films, and The Muse didn't do that poorly, and for the record, although not one of Albert Brooks' best films, it was still pretty good. And Ride With The Devil was an underappreciated masterpiece. Lenny Nero has spoken.

  • Aug. 18, 2000, 11:56 a.m. CST

    I am definately seeing this movie but...

    by Herbert Kornfeld

    ...Is anyone else a little preturbed by how Moriarty calls the story of woman who has a complete schizophrenic breakdown due to the murder of her husband "charming and fun"? I guess he really IS evil.

  • Aug. 18, 2000, 12:04 p.m. CST

    RIDE WITH THE DEVIL, like Three Kings, is a great ORIGINAL war m

    by The Grin

    There are no cliches in Ride with the Devil. It's a great war film. Even the confrontation that we all anticipate at the end spoils our hopes, yet rings true. It even has compassion for its villains in the end. The romance... it isn't even a romance, it's a relationship driven by necessity. And the characters with guns are not ideals... they're real... they're scared... they're vulnerable. And the war is shown as MESSY without any gratuitous, condescending, crowd-pleasing shots. Ang Lee, in my book, still has a perfect record as a director. People who dislike "Ride with the Devil" most likely just wanted another male-revenge-fantasy war movie. I love it, and it's also got me charged up to see the next war-in-the-woods film from Lee... that glorious release that's coming this Christmas to the hearts and minds of fan boys everywhere. - - - - - - - - - - -- THE GRIN

  • Aug. 18, 2000, 12:13 p.m. CST

    Back to reviewer school

    by Wared

    I been reading AICN for about 8 months now, and one thing I can tell you for sure is.. This site drains all the joy out of movies. I'm tired of being told how cool anime is, why Iron Giant was screwed over (not even that good of a cartoon, never mind a movie), and reading sub-par reviews that basically start by star-fucking the director and end by telling me exactly what happens in every movie that I might want to go see. The only decent part of the site is the talk-back, where once in a while, someone says something interesting, that makes me think. Those people are NEVER Moriarty or Harry, neither of whose opinion I would trust as far as I could throw it. If you're going to REVIEW a movie, give us a "brief" idea of the plot (no spoilers or lengthy descriptions of your favorite scene) and then some comments about why you feel it was good or not good. Personal experience is fine, but don't make me read your fucking life story. Make your point, move on. If you want to see it done well, read Roger Ebert's review of E.T., available in his archives on-line. THAT's personal experience at work. Enough already. I'm tired of all the scoops/spoilers/inside info. I'm heading back to the land of not knowing. At least I was occasionally surprised and pleased by things.

  • Aug. 18, 2000, 12:39 p.m. CST

    No, really: "Ride With The Devil" DID SUCK!

    by John Bigboote

    Never since transcending the eighth dimension have I witnessed such unmitigated tedium. I love all of Ang Lee's other films, and I like all the actors in RWTD (except Jewel), but the whole movie seemed like a cruel exercise in leading a horse to water and not letting him drink. The film constantly flirted with plot threads, story directions, character arcs, etc. that were FAR more interesting than those explored front-and-center in the film -- only to turn its back on them in exchange for boredom. To me, it was like getting to go to Paris but being forced to eat only at McDonald's. Ugh. No wonder no one saw this film. LAUGH WHILE YOU CAN, MONKEY BOY!!!

  • Aug. 18, 2000, 1:01 p.m. CST

    Nurse Betty

    by magamberson

    I agree with Moriarty, USA Films is doing some kick ass stuff now. BJM and Topsy Turvy were two of my faves last year. Traffic's going to kick ass too - Soderbergh can do no wrong in my book. I'm seeing NB soon and can't wait since I'm a LaBute fan. I checked out the USA Films site & it's pretty damn cool. They use these images from Nurse Betty and have all sorts of messed up (in a good way!) things going on. (www.usafilms.net). I also found the Nurse Betty site (www.nurse-betty.com), and it's also pretty bizarre. I guess it's one of the character's email & there are all these links to weird sites. i spent like 30 minutes on it the other day. Curious to know what you guys think.

  • Aug. 18, 2000, 1:04 p.m. CST

    Thanks for the review, Moriarty

    by Monkey Lord

    Thought a little beam of light might be needed in this swelling suckhole that is the Talkback. I swear to god, I hate these things. Most anything a nyone has to say isn't worth reading, because so many people are so willing to make personal attacks and throw their feces on the web... People seem to forget that they are, in reality, talking to people. Yeah, I'm not kidding guys. Really. Moriarty (and Harry, I'm pretty sure) is a person...and as such, has feelings. Express your opinion however you want, but don't go around bloodying anyone's nose with it. It's rude, its tripe, and more often than not it devalues your opinion to the point that the more sensible of us don't particularly care what you have to say....So then what's the point of "talking back?" Anyway, Moriarty, thank you for the review... I actually might not have bothered with Nurse Betty had I not read it. Now I'm quite anxious...

  • Aug. 18, 2000, 1:39 p.m. CST

    yay!

    by belle

    Ok, so I read the screenplay and grinned my way from cover to cover. I'm happy that LaBute translated it without losing it's sweetness. I can't wait!!

  • Aug. 18, 2000, 1:39 p.m. CST

    Cow stomachs and spoilers

    by nerfherda

    Tripe can be a very good element in some dishes. Unnecessary inclusion of spoilers in a self-indulgent exercise in mental masturbation disguised as a "review" is not very good.

  • Aug. 18, 2000, 1:51 p.m. CST

    Fucking Amazing!

    by Bugger

    Has anyone else found the Nurse Betty Website?!? Its the way Websites SHOULD be done for movies. The Matrix's website WISHES it could Utilize flash like this and kick ass so much. Im seeing the Movie just because of this site ( www.nurse-betty.com ), so I suggest everyone check it out. Real Fun. Bugger out! }:>

  • Aug. 18, 2000, 2:19 p.m. CST

    Zelwegger's Weight Gain

    by SheriffHungwell

    Didn't Renee Zelwegger put on weight for this role? Or is the extra poundage for some movie coming out where she plays a brit? Man, I love them chunkies.

  • Aug. 18, 2000, 3:59 p.m. CST

    Balls Deep sounds like a porno review.

    by Maynard

    R A M it.

  • Aug. 18, 2000, 4:16 p.m. CST

    Chris Rock

    by Maynard

    Sorry, but the guy can't act his way out of a paper bag. No, lets make it a wet paper bag. I didn't think the guy was funny when he was on SNL. He seemed to be an Eddie Murphy wannabe. Lets better hope the script is really good, cause Mr. Rock seems able to read well. He did so so in Lethal Weapon 4 anyway. There just may not be enough plate glass windows to fly through in this one. Seems like a plastic-gun, witty reparte kind of film. I bet he could sell cars with that voice of his. He should be the one going balls-deep in this movie. Mis-cast. Too bad. Give me the job dammit!!Using Chris Rock in a movie is almost as bad as using the term "spinnerettes" in the same context as spider man, or even thinking of having "organic spinnerettes." Oh ya, "Ride with the Devil" sucked so hard my asshole hurt the next day. What is the connection between this drivel and another like "Three Kings." CRAP!! Who really knows. I should have slapped myelf for going to "Ride" with the wife. Spending money to see that film hurt me emotionally.

  • Aug. 18, 2000, 4:20 p.m. CST

    Moriarty and Harry: same person?

    by Maynard

  • Aug. 18, 2000, 4:27 p.m. CST

    Moriarty and Harry: same person?

    by Maynard

    I disagree!!! Harry can't spell very well and his grammar bites big-time. Moriarty, on the other hand, likes spilling spoilers all over without caring if anyone reads them, but likes to write because he cares a little about what goes into a paragraph. He writes a lot too, but whats with the tiny type? Crap what a waste of time!!! I could be out there looking for a job!!!! Anyone looking for graphic artists?

  • Aug. 19, 2000, 9 a.m. CST

    Moriarty going soft?

    by TheRedEyedGambit

    Sounds like he's getting more weakened and less evil in every review. I understand that this film will probably be good but if it mad Moriarty cheery... That's something to question... Just giving all you talk backers some food for thought.

  • Aug. 19, 2000, 11:13 p.m. CST

    Chris Rock is the funniest comedian of the 90s.

    by superninja

    I bet you only have seen him on SNL and in film, and haven't bothered to watch any of his standup. Eddie Murphy is no where near as funny as Rock.

  • Aug. 20, 2000, 9:36 a.m. CST

    Saw it at Edinburgh and it's great

    by Tannh

    This film as good as Moriaty says. Performances are superb all round - even from Chris Rock who usually irritates the s**t out of me (I actually cheered in Jackie Brown when he got shot!). The film is touchy and funny and your heart really does go out to Betty as she heads off to fufil her fantasy. The subject matter is dark but is expertly handled by La Bute and manages to be funny without being flippant. Go and see it!

  • Aug. 20, 2000, 2:55 p.m. CST

    Is it true...

    by r_dimitri22

    ...that LaBute is a devout Mormon? Did anyone else hear that? I read that somewhere, and reconciling that with In the Company of Men and Your Friends and Neighbors seemed a little difficult. Anyway, if that's the case, the fact that he "has a heart" really shouldn't be surprising.

  • Aug. 20, 2000, 8:31 p.m. CST

    sambroo, that was chris TUCKER who got shot in 'jackie brown' (a

    by tommy5tone

    chris rock sucked balls in 'LW4' but was pretty good in 'dogma'. i don't think labute would have hired the guy if he couldn't hold his own with freeman. hey, moriarty, why no mention of greg kinnear? i was ready to rip this guy a new one when i heard he was making the leap from cheesebag entertainment reporter to actor, but he's been fine in just about everything i've seen him in. (thought he was great in 'mystery men'.)

  • Aug. 21, 2000, 10:58 a.m. CST

    USA Films & Gramercy Films

    by magamberson

    Not that I really care, but just to defend my comments earlier: as far as I can tell USA Films is basically the same people as Gramercy, Polygram Filmed Entertainment & October Films - just a new name. Also, the new line up seems just as cool as the stuff they inherited. Soderbergh's Traffic, Wong Kar Wai's In the Mood for Love, the Coens' Barber Movie with Billy Bob & McDormand, Jodie Foster's Flora Plum, LaBute's adaptation of Possession, and Series 7: the Contenders sounds like the sharp kick in the ass that reality tv deserves. I'm sure they're putting out plenty of stinkers, but who doesn't? I just noticed alot of cool filmmakers and projects. That must mean something, right?

  • Sept. 28, 2000, 7:55 p.m. CST

    Nurse betty

    by hatchling

    Maybe you fell in love with Rene and that blinded you to the inate stupidity and sexism in this horrid movie, but speaking as a female movie lover, it just plain sucked! OK, a sop was added at the end that Betty would find her empowerment herself, but everything else up to that major inconsistancy stunk of "weak babbling girlchild". I hate movies like this. the only bright note was Morgan Freeman in an enlightening fresh role.