by Paula Farmer
If you haven’t seen Where the Heart Is, you’re in good company and for good reason. Despite its obvious talent pool, including Natalie Portman, Ashley Judd and Stockard Channing, this film is flawed by a lack of continuity and obnoxious characters.
The story is based on a novel by Billie Letts which was made popular by the Oprah Winfrey Book Club. In it, a musician dumps his young, naive, pregnant girlfriend, Novalee (Portman), at a Wal-Mart in a small Oklahoma town. The girl makes the store her home until she delivers her baby there, becomes a celebrity and is befriended by a quirky couple. She turns her life around and raises her baby, thanks to a Wal-Mart job and the help of friends played by Channing and Judd.
The film should have been based in either light-hearted humor or intense character development and female camaraderie. Instead, it becomes a mundane journey into the lives of ignorant, one-dimensional characters with names like Forney, Novalee and Americus Nation.
Another prominent character, Lex (Judd), has horrible taste in men and knows nothing about contraceptives. The men leave their mark by getting her pregnant and she responds by naming her babies after sweets such as Praline and Brownie.
Besides its senseless plot and annoying characters, the film is interlaced with trite dialogue such as "We’ve all got meanness in us, but we’ve got good to prove." Even the acting talents of Portman can’t successfully transcend such pretentious lines.
As if it isn’t bad enough that quality writing and attention were not given to the plot – the allegedly dynamic life of Novalee – someone found it necessary to incorporate a subplot concerning the near-rise to musical fame of Novalee’s ex-boyfriend. Horrendously, this story line is supposed to be the catalyst of enlightenment for the scraggly musician and the naive Novalee as to where the heart is. All this really does is introduce a character played wittily by Joan Cusak. Hers is one role that’s – thankfully – not taken seriously.
Where the Heart Is is a film which wastes good actors – and your time.
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