A woman is brought to civilization after spending her life in the wilds in this drama. Dr. Jerome Lovell (Liam Neeson) happens upon a shack deep in the woods, where he discovers a strange woman who appears to be about 30, speaking an incomprehensible language. The woman, named Nell (Jodie Foster), was raised in the cabin by her late mother, who was incapacitated by strokes (Nell speaks English, but distorted -- as it was by her mother's infirmities); with the exception of her twin sister, who died as a child, Nell has had contact with no other human being. Lovell brings in a psychiatrist, Dr. Paula Olsen (Natasha Richardson) to help determine what, if anything, should be done for Nell; Olsen thinks that Nell should be committed to an institution, but Lovell demands a period of unobtrusive observation instead. When it becomes obvious that the courts will demand that Nell be hospitalized for psychiatric observation, Lovell and Olsen take it upon themselves to gently introduce Nell to the outside world. Jodie Foster's performance in Nell earned her an Academy Award nomination as Best Actress, and she won the Screen Actor's Guild award in that category.
by Mark Deming synopsis