Where The Heart Is


Directed by: Matt Williams
Written by:Lowell Ganz, Babaloo Mandel
Starring: Natalie Portman, James Frain, Stockard Channing, Laura House, Ashley Judd
Released: August 31, 2000
Grade: C+

Natalie Portman is Novalee Nation - a pregnant 17-year-old trying to make things work with her boyfriend, Jack.  The two are travelling across America to California to start a life together.  Pulling over at a Wal-Mart store in Oklahoma for a pair of new shoes, Jack drives off leaving Novalee stranded with no home, money or prospects.

Novalee hides out each night in the Wal-Mart as she tries to figure out what to do next.  Her question is answered when the baby decides its time to arrive and with the help of curious librarian named Forney (James Frain), she gives birth inside the store creating a whirlwind of media attention.

In hospital she develops a friendship with a Lexie (Ashley Judd), a nurse with four children of her own.  She also meets Thelma (Stockard Channing), an elderly religious woman who offers Novalee and her child a place to stay.  The story chronicles the next five years of Novalee’s life.

This film had more ups and downs than any film this year.  There were so many moments I really enjoyed which impressed me with the detail of the storyline and the quality of the actors.  Yet, there we other moments so filled with clichés I wondered whether the same screenwriter was responsible.  My greatest irritation was Novalee’s obsession with the number 5 and how it represented misfortune - it seemed totally out of character given her personality.

Based on the novel by Billie Letts, Where The Heart Is has all the ingredients of an American soap opera condensed into two hours.  Light-hearted and joyful one minute, emotional and tear-jerking the next.  Director Matt Williams tries to integrate a second storyline into the film - the fate of her boyfriend Jack.  Whilst a good idea, Williams doesn’t give it the attention or significance it deserved and the whole subplot becomes an unwarranted distraction.

With many great performances, Where The Heart Is is more Hallmark than Hollywood.  The finest example of a “chick flick” one is likely to see.