Where the Heart Is

Where is the heart in Where the Heart Is? It's a good question, and remains unanswered for the entire length of the movie. The movie plays out tragedy after tragedy, attempting to intersperse small snippets of humor and humanity, leaving a mish-mash of a movie. Adapted from the book by Billie Letts, Where the Heart Is follows the life of Novalee Nation (Natalie Portman, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, Anywhere But Here), a young Southern woman abandoned by her boyfriend Willy Jack (Dylan Bruno, Saving Private Ryan) at a Wal-Mart in Oklahoma.

The beginning of the movie plays out like a Wal-Mart commercial. Novalee, abandoned and pregnant, spends her nights in the Wal-Mart, keeping careful track of what she owes them (hey, she's an upstanding young woman). The mere presence of Wal-Mart is enough to make a bad film (that evil smiling yellow dot is surely lurking somewhere). She gives birth to a girl, and names her Americus. Yes, Americus Nation. They become local celebrities, and end up living with Sister Husband (Stockard Channing, Isn't She Great, Practical Magic), and befriends Lexie (Ashley Judd, Double Jeopardy, Eye of the Beholder), a nurse at the hospital. Apparently, odd names means funny. Lexie cannot hold onto a relationship, and has a myriad of children (all named after food-remember, it's funny) from different men. Meanwhile, local librarian Forney (James Frain, Reindeer Games, Titus) develops feelings for Novalee, while Novalee only regards him as a friend. The movie tries to show that family does not necessarily mean blood relations, and that struggling through hardships will make a person stronger. Instead, it is merely a parade of boring stories.

As good as they are (even here), Portman and Judd are surprisingly miscast. They are two of the most beautiful women in movies today, and director Matt Williams surrounds them with ordinary-looking people. Movies stretch the truth, but listening to Judd complain about not being able to attract men just doesn't work. Portman is better, though her naivete wears thin after about half an hour. Even worse, the story by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel (EdTV) includes so many superfluous storylines that is a bloated mess. Forney's sister is sick, and is one reason why Forney's relationship with Novalee is moving so slow. The story also constantly shifts back to Willy Jack and his aspirations to become a country music artist. There are only a couple moments in the film where any genuine emotion is. Familiarity saves Where the Heart Is from sinking any further. The story takes the easy road in storytelling, leading everyone down a predictable path. Any attempts at originality would most likely ruin the already tedious film.

Haro Rates It: Not That Good.
2 hours, 10 minutes, Rated PG-13 for intense thematic material, language, and sexual content.

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