Home > Reviews > NURSE BETTY – Rolfe Kent

NURSE BETTY – Rolfe Kent

September 8, 2000 Leave a comment Go to comments

nursebettyOriginal Review by Jonathan Broxton

It’s been said a hundred times before, but sometimes the most unlikely movies get great scores. Neil La Bute, having contributed two of the nastiest relationship movies in recent memory with In The Company of Men (1998) and Your Friends and Neighbors (1999), both of which told twisted little stories of manipulation, verbal assault and a total lack of moral fiber, is the last man you would expect to helm a sweet-natured road movie. Therefore it comes as something of a surprise to discover that his third feature, Nurse Betty, is a generally wholesome romantic fable – with just a hint of subversion to keep it interesting. Renee Zellweger stars as Betty Sizemore, a put-upon waitress obsessed with the daytime soap opera A Reason to Love, and its star Dr David Ravel (Greg Kinnear). Betty’s life is drastically altered when she witnesses her lowlife husband Del (Aaron Eckhart) being murdered by two bickering hitmen (Morgan Freeman and Chris Rock) over a drug deal gone wrong. Shocked into a “fugue state” by the trauma, Betty goes AWOL and heads off across America to LA, convinced that she is in fact a nurse at the fictional hospital from A Reason to Love, and that Dr Ravel is her real-life former fiancé. Unaware that the two killers are hot on her trail – and that a cache of cocaine is stowed in her trunk – Betty’s odyssey picks up pace as she traverses the country, imparting her tale to a variety of bemused on-lookers, and becoming increasingly determined to rekindle her imaginary relationship.

Rolfe Kent, coming off the back of a series of art house hits such as The Theory of Flight, Election and Gun Shy, was the perfect composer to score this kind of movie. What’s interesting about the Scotsman’s work here is that, beneath the score’s superficial beauty and saccharine sentiment, it’s obvious a great deal of thought has gone into its creation. Built around a simple four-note theme for piano and strings, Kent’s score is light and breezy, capturing perfectly Betty’s sweet-natured ditziness and romantic outlook. The score features several superb statements of the theme, notably in ‘Betty Hits the Open Road’ and especially the conclusive ‘Piazza’. Similarly, ‘Betty Meets David Ravel’ is a lovely combination of dreamy orchestral textures mixed with a couple light-hearted marches which are, at times, reminiscent of the work of Rachel Portman.

Some of the more dissonant music is occasionally reminiscent of Thomas Newman’s American Beauty, and even Marco Beltrami’s The Minus Man, especially in the way Kent uses a bed of unexpected percussion items and shrill woodwinds, and through the innovative use of glass bowls. Cues such as ‘Something Bad Happened to Del and Me’, ‘Opening Titles/Excuse Me Miss’ and ‘Now Del… The Definition of Stupid’ illustrate this style perfectly.

Where Nurse Betty is intelligent, however, is in the way the music blurs the lines between fantasy and reality. Fulfilling the same purpose as Burkhard Dallwitz’s score for The Truman Show, Kent’s music often acts as “personal underscore” for Betty’s journey. The cue ‘In David’s Car/Pool Date’ is a perfect example of this. It underscores the scene in which Betty fulfills her wish and kisses the man whom she (mistakenly) believes is her fiancé, and at the exact moment their lips touch, the music swells into a huge, lush statement of the main theme. Overkill? No – I personally believe the music was intended in this instance to portray Betty’s state of heightened emotion. If she thinks she’s living inside a soap opera, it stands to reason she would hear its score in her head.

The source music selection is eclectic to say the least, ranging from Swedish sex kitten Ann Margret crooning “Slowly” to Hank Williams and Eddie Albert yodeling mercilessly through renditions of “I Won’t Be Home No More” and “The Cattle Call”. Pink Martini’s rendition of the Doris Day classic “Que Séra Séra” is somehow oddly disturbing, with the most peculiar set of off-key arrangements and an unexpectedly dark twist to the vocal performance. At least Kent and producer Frankie Pine had the foresight to place all the songs at the front of the album – it’s easy to skip forward to track 8 and enjoy Rolfe’s work. It’s easily one of the best romantic comedy scores of the year and, for me, the highlight of Kent’s career to date.

Rating: ***

Track Listing:

  • Que Séra, Séra (written by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, performed by Pink Martini) (4:09)
  • Slowly (written by Otis Blackwell, performed by Ann-Margret) (2:05)
  • I Won’t be Home No More (written and performed by Hank Williams) (2:44)
  • The Cattle Call (written by Tex Owens, performed by Eddy Arnold) (2:30)
  • Don’t You Know (written by Bobby Worth, performed by Della Reese) (2:33)
  • Poor Little Fool (written by Sharon Sheeley, performed by Ricky Nelson) (2:31)
  • Que Séra, Séra (written by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans, performed by Julia de Palma) (2:27)
  • Charlie’s Goodbye (1:44)
  • Something Bad Happened to Del and Me (1:57)
  • Visiting Betty’s Grandparents (1:06)
  • Excuse Me Miss (3:05)
  • Betty Freaks Out (1:56)
  • Now Del… The Definition of Stupid (2:21)
  • It Was Chloe/Betty Hits the Open Road (1:03)
  • Rosa Storms the Pharmacy (1:17)
  • To the Party (0:55)
  • Betty Meets David Ravel (4:42)
  • In David’s Car/Pool Date (3:53)
  • To Del’s Car Lot (0:45)
  • Are You Hearing This/Charlie’s Sweet Inner Nature (1:59)
  • Piazza (0:57)

Running Time: 47 minutes 07 seconds

Varése Sarabande VSD-6184 (2000)

Music composed by Rolfe Kent Conducted by Bill Stromberg. Orchestrations by Tony Blondal and Kerry Wikstrom. Recorded and mixed by Tim Boyle. Edited by Nick South. Album produced by Frankie Pine and Rolfe Kent.

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