WHERE THE HEART IS
Release Date: April 28, 2000
Starring: Natalie Portman, Ashley Judd,
Stockard Channing, James
Frain, Dylan Bruno, Joan
Cusack, Keith David, & Sally
Audience: Teenagers & adults
Runtime: 121 minutes
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Director: Matt Williams
Executive Producer: Carmen Finestra & Rick Leed
Producer: Matt Williams, Susan Catsonis,
David McFadzean, & Patricia
Writer: Lowell Ganz & Babaloo Mandel
Address Comments To:William Mechanic, Chairman/CEO
20th Century Fox Film Corp.
10201 West Pico Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90035
Phone: (310) 369-2097
Web Page: www.fox.com
Portman plays Novalee Nation, a 17-year-old with a thick Southern drawl who gets impregnated by her boyfriend, Willy Jack, played by Dylan Bruno. Like the mother who also left her, Willy Jack abandons her at a Wal-Mart store in Oklahoma. Novalee secretly camps out at night in the store for six weeks, befriending a friendly but weird alcoholic woman (Stockard Channing), who calls herself “Sister Husband” and has put the sign “Welcome Woman” on the side of her truck. Novalee also befriends the town’s local intellectual, Forney Hull (James Frain), a young man who’s running things at the local library for his alcoholic sister. Forney is intrigued by the young girl and finds out she’s sleeping in the Wal-Mart. One night, he crashes through the plate glass window to deliver her baby, a girl she names Americus.
Mother and daughter become famous overnight, but the fame doesn’t last. Novalee’s own mother (Sally Field from FOREST GUMP in an insightful bit of casting) shows up, only to take the $500 that people have sent to Novalee after hearing about her story. Sister Husband takes Novalee and Americus into her large trailer home and, over the next few years, finally settles down, though she thinks she’s not “good enough” for the brainy Forney, who’s fallen in love with her. Novalee also becomes friends with an older woman, played by Ashley Judd, who has trouble finding the right man but who has no problems producing one child after another.
Meanwhile, Willy Jack does a sting in jail, becomes a one-hit country star after signing with a hardboiled agent played by Joan Cusack (Jessie in TOY STORY 2), loses his career and becomes a drunken has been. After much drama, comedy and some tragic circumstances, the two meet again in a hospital, and Willy Jack gives Novalee some important advice that will give her a different perspective on her life and the actions she herself has taken.
This last brilliant turn of events is what finally earns this movie the three stars that MOVIEGUIDE® has decided to give it, although the rest of the movie, including the two romantic leads, Portman and Frain, is quite uneven. Unlike FOREST GUMP, WHERE THE HEART IS lacks the depth of character, theme and story that made the former movie so great. This is so even though both movies have a strong melodramatic aspect to them and even though there are tremendous shifts in their tone and mood. One minute, the audience is laughing with these characters’ predicaments, the next minute, a tornado strikes, bringing tragedy, literally and figuratively. FOREST GUMP carried off this difficult task with flying colors, but WHERE THE HEART IS does not quite make it, partly due to the fact that Portman and Frain just don’t have what it takes to bring it all off properly. They are a little wooden at times. Their performances do not match the quality of Ashley Judd, Stockard Channing and Joan Cusack’s in the same movie. (Has George Lucas made a mistake by hiring Portman for the female lead in his new STAR WARS movies?)
Morally and spiritually speaking, despite some positive elements, there are several disturbing aspects to WHERE THE HEART IS. First, although the movie eventually rebukes serial sexual promiscuity, it says premarital sex is okay if you shack up with only one person. This regrettable message is accompanied by some anti-Christian content. At one point, a religious couple carrying a Bible kidnaps Novalee’s baby and leaves her in the manger of a Nativity display. The symbolism apparently is meant to sanctify the birth of the baby, but why have a religious couple carrying the Bible do it? This odd development is offensive, as is the fact that Sister Husband asks God repeatedly to forgive her fornication with her lover but continues fornicating anyway.
Ultimately, WHERE THE HEART IS needs a lot of work to meet the high standards of MOVIEGUIDE® and, hopefully, our readers. It still will be interesting to see whether the mass audience will follow our lead or take this movie to its heart, like they did with FOREST GUMP.
WHERE THE HEART IS contains some foul language and a lax, immoral take on premarital sex. It also has some anti-Christian content, an uneven story, inconsistent acting by the two romantic leads, and spiritually confused characters that dilute the positive aspects of its production quality and worldview. Ultimately, WHERE THE HEART IS needs a lot of work to meet the high standards of MOVIEGUIDE®