What to Drink While Watching “Nurse Betty”

When this film first came out, I dismissed it outright on a knee-jerk. But then Sheen and Soraya saw it and raved about it. I double-dismissed it even harder than the first time.

I saw it on TV a few days ago and realised they were right and I was wrong. Yes, I have to admit, it’s worth watching. There are a lot of good things about it and just a few bad things. And, because I’m in an obstreperous mood right now, I’ll start with the bad stuff.

First off, Chris Rock. I mean, this guy is dreadful. He just cannot act. God knows how he manages to get paid to star in movies. Somebody somewhere must think he’s good, I know, and I can’t really say I’m in a position to judge him on all his career because I’ve only seen him in three or four films  but what the hell, this is my blog and I can give any unwarranted opinion I like, and my opinion is that Mr Rock really doesn’t rock. I suspect he has blackmailed the Hollywood establishment with some compromising photos or something.

Second off, the script. Now, I know that the script has been highly appreciated (courtesy of one John C. Richards, probably bribed by Chris Rock) but I found it sloppy, as though it had been written very quickly. Morgan Freeman’s character and that guy Chris Rock’s character use the F-word in situations that do not call for it. Don’t get me wrong – I’m no prude, and if you have to say it, say it – but it doesn’t cover up for a careless script. I liked the way Rene Zellweger’s character spoke as though she were a member of the cast of the soap opera she is besotted with, but I wish she had been given some cleverer lines when not. And, OK, you will say, “Yes but she’s just an innocent chick from Kansas” and then I’ll say her lines could have been more wistful, intriguing, subtle. I don’t know.

Some people dislike the fact that this film isn’t clearly a comedy, as it contains some pretty violent scenes (how long is it since you last saw somebody being scalped, for Pete’s sake??) but I think movie-goers nowadays are inured to this kind of genre crossover. I wouldn’t take my 12-year-old daughter to see this film, if I had one, even though she’d love and understand 90% of it.

There’s a curious romantic tie-in between Betty’s fixation with Dr Ravell (a pleasingly competent performance by Greg Kinnear), Charlie’s fixation with Betty, and what I saw as the obsession Travis has with Jane in Wim Wenders’ Paris, Texas. Again, the script is sloppy, making Charlie liken Betty to Doris Day as some kind of epitome of the fresh, wholesome woman. This comparison sits very uneasily – Betty is nothing like any Doris Day character, and I should know, as one of her biggest fans. Do your homework, Mr John C. Richards.

Rene Zellweger would be outstanding, if she weren’t outstanding in just about every film she makes. In Nurse Betty she manages to make an unbelievable character just about believable, and oozes empathy and complicity. And what makes her such a great actress is that she is so different in every film; she looks different, sounds different, behaves different… and yet… and yet… what makes her not so great is that there’s never that teensy weensy trace of the real Rene Zellweger in any of her roles. Let me see if I can explain that.

When I see a great actor, in dozens of different films, of course I like to see him/her take on the character completely, and not just perform the same role in a different production. Humphrey Bogart was one of these, and there are dozens of others (Hugh Grant, for example). But a TRULY great actor makes the role credible and, at the same time, lets you know that it’s the same guy that played in that other film you enjoyed. Sean Penn and Harvey Keitel are names that spring to mind, as are Cate Blanchett, Rachel Weisz and, going back a bit, Jane Fonda. Their personality underlines their character. I get the impression that Rene Zellweger deletes every last bit of her own personality and adopts the character she’s playing so thoroughly that it’s hard to see the real actress underneath. Maybe this is a good thing, but come on, Nurse Betty isn’t a documentary, we know it’s fiction, we know who Rene Zellweger is, and we watch the movie because she’s in it.

Have I made myself clear? I doubt it. Never mind.

Anyway, onto the beverage. At the start of the film, Betty’s husband and the guy who shoots him are drinking whisky while that moron Rock is drinking beer. That’s a good enough reason not to drink beer, lest one should be seen to condone this awful person’s behaviour in any way. There’s another scene in a bar somewhere in Arizona but I can’t recall what Betty orders (surely not beer?).

As Betty lives in a dreamy, confused world, refusing to come to terms with reality, I was thinking that some liquid refreshment along the lines of Ponche is in order. For those of you unacquainted with this nauseous tipple, let me say that it is a Spanish brandy-type beverage, very sweet and easy to drink, guaranteed to get you slurpy and loquacious within minutes. Your fantasies unravel before you in a graceful and sensual fashion and life tastes syrupy and cuddly. OK, you throw up shortly afterwards, and you’ll have a killer hangover the next morning but, in the interim, soap operas become entrancing, the person you’ve always had a crush on smiles at you, you dare to be silly, you don’t care, you don’t care, you don’t care what people say, you just go on, forward or wherever, muddling your life with your dreams, until … until …

The best Ponche is made by Soto, but it’s hard to track down nowadays. A fallback is the Caballero brand, or you could try making your own:

Take one bottle of Magno brandy and let it boil on a low to medium heat for about thirty minutes. Add like a cup of sugar and let it go all thick and yummy. Cool down and there you have it.

Rene and I wish you all sweet dreams. 

– Heen XX

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