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Overall Rating

Awesome: 14.42%
Worth A Look: 27.88%
Average: 10.58%
Pretty Bad32.69%
Total Crap: 14.42%

7 reviews, 62 user ratings

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Where the Heart Is (2000)
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by Erik Childress

"It's Trash Day!"
2 stars

My definition of a chick flick reads the following: “Any movie for women, about women, starring primarily women, where the majority of men are portrayed as idiots, cheaters, beaters, rapists, or unloving devils who want nothing but sex and beer.” It’s the 21st century and I think we can finally admit that your standard issue romantic comedy shouldn’t be classified as a chick flick, unless it is a bad romantic comedy. Think Beaches, The First Wives Club, Thelma and Louise. To make matters worse, a certain celebrity has been singing this story’s premise for months. The minute I knew that Oprah Winfrey was recommending this movie, or more to the point, a movie based on a book from the kickback that is Oprah’s Book Club, I should have ran like Jan Michael Vincent in The World’s Greatest Athlete. Yet I still went in with high expectations due to the cast list and the wonderful track record of Natalie Portman.

She stars as Novalee Nation, a heavily pregnant little lady who heads off on the road to California from Tennessee with her white trash/country-singing (redundancy, I know) boyfriend Willy Jack (Dylan Bruno). After a funny start, Novalee has to make a pit stop at a Wal-Mart where she is then abandoned. With no one to turn to, she manages to spend six weeks as an overnight guest of the glorified K-Mart, somehow avoiding the cleaning crew and keeping track of everything she “borrows.” I kept waiting for her to run into Jim from Career Opportunities. But on a dark and stormy night the water breaks and what looked to be the most original birthing scene ever witnessed on film is thwarted as the local librarian (James Frain) crashes his body through the front window (apparently hearing her screams through the rain and thunder in the middle of the night) to save the day and fade to black. Cut to hospital setting where Novalee is now an Andy Warhol punchline as reporters want to talk to the mother of the “Wal-Mart baby”. It’s here where she meets nurse Lexie (Ashley Judd), a virtual baby machine who names her children after snack foods (Twinkie, etc…). Hopefully none of her children will grow up to be fat (Mousse) or a prostitute (Ho-Ho). Novalee is also mistaken for someone else and befriended by Sister Husband (Stockard Channing), a woman of God who apologizes every time she makes the Whoopie. This is such a friendly little town; one of those cute small towns where the only black man in town (Keith David) is named Whitecotten. But he’s not the only man in town. There’s that nice guy librarian, Forney, who is such a nice guy, he not only helped deliver that baby, but also takes care of his sanitarium-bound sister. But he doesn’t quite have the looks of the local mechanic or the dozen guys that seem to give Lexie the ole’ Lincoln log, so that makes him the good friend.

However, just when we’re starting to get involved in Novalee’s story, we switch gears to follow her loser ex-boyfriend and his shot at a recording contract. This would be fine if his story paralleled her own in some way, but it doesn’t, causing a distraction of epic proportions that is only part of the many problems with this film. Time couldn’t move faster in this movie if it were traveling through a wormhole in Contact. Scenes cut instantly into the future with no transition except for characters to say, “it’s been two months…or two years.” One scene it’s April and the next it’s July (of the next year). Whether it’s a fault of the editing or the writing, it becomes a serious flaw of storytelling since we want to follow the progression of Novalee from knocked-up underage trailer trash into a young lady who can get past her feelings about herself and her superstitions. You see, Novalee has this thing about fives. When she was five years old, on a date riddled with fives, it took 55 stitches to patch her up. So now any time some fives turn up (apparently even in the running time of the film) something bad happens. And tragedy seems to be the national pasttime around this community as not twenty minutes can go by without someone being killed, beaten, kidnapped or paralyzed. I’d say its obvious Novalee would never play Bingo or the Lotto for fear of the dreaded fives, but who needs to win money when luck seems to come so easily to her.

After her Wal-Mart ordeal and being robbed and abandoned by her mother (Sally Field in a single overly long scene), all her expenses are taken care of due to her newfound celebrity status. She is given food and shelter by the nice God-fearing couple so she can pursue her new ambition to be a photographer. She’s fortunate enough to find a old camera at a garage sale, has picture-taking Whitecotten fix it for her and she starts taking pictures showing that just about anyone can be a photographer. She even gets to be the beneficiary of a last will and testament. And upon writing that sentence, Ashley Judd’s character has gotten pregnant again.

On the advice of Mr. Whitecotten, Novalee is encouraged to give her baby a name that stands apart. Americus. Americus Nation is the name of this baby, now less of an actual person but more of a symbol of America’s heartland. A heartland where everyone is nice to each other, babies are pumped out by the truckload, and the women never seem to pick the right men. But let’s remember their spirit, right Oprah? Look at the men on display here. Willy Jack is a real piece of work, abandoning poor Novalee, then proceeds to get arrested for nearly having relations with a minor. The aforementioned mechanic is a real tool nearly getting Novalee pregnant again immediately. And Lexie’s gentleman suitors are never seen, all of them knocking up and then abandoning her, culminating in a final encounter that leaves her beaten and unspeakable things done to her children that I couldn’t believe. If she had a kid with the unseen well-to-do beater man, no doubt she’d name it Licorice Whip. This leads to Ashley Judd giving her “men are evil” speech (weeks later), at which time I finally had to give up. Nice guys really do finish last in this movie. Nice guy Whitecotten is never seen with a woman or ever mentions having a lady. Ashley Judd literally thumbs her nose at the bald exterminator (possibly because he doesn’t have enough sperm to offer). Another nice ole’ guy seems to get shafted in a will. And the only nice romantic interest in the story (Forney) is essentially used by our heroine, until she finally decides to sleep with him, only to later tell him she doesn’t love him, only to later induce an ending where I had hoped Forney would have given her the finger and went to class. By the way, Lexie now has 16 children.

For all my complaining and problems with the film as a whole, it’s loan bright spot comes in the form of Natalie Portman, who finally gets to show that she alone can carry our attention as a leading lady. She was incredible in Beautiful Girls and wonderful in last fall’s little seen Anywhere But Here. With a radiant look and a good sense of humor, she tries to overcome the story’s shortcomings but is failed by a weak script and choppy style. Ashley Judd looked ready to get out of her funk of ridiculous thrillers (Double Jeopardy, Eye of the Beholder) and she’s fine here even if I did want to loan her money to buy some birth control. Stockard Channing has some nice scenes and Joan Cusack is totally wasted in a few brief moments as Willy Jack’s agent. This film is not the fault of these actresses nor the actors as Frain and Bruno do good work too as the shy librarian and ex-boyfriend, respectively. As I caught a tad of the end credits before bolting from the theater, I was shocked to see the film adapted by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, co-writers of such high quality multi-character projects like Parenthood and City Slickers. This is a major step back for them. Someone like Ron Howard or Rob Reiner might have been able to make something out of this, but in the hands of TV director Matt Williams (Roseanne, Home Improvement), it’s a choppy mess that belongs on the street corner Monday morning.

Let’s not forget that I was one of the big supporters of Anywhere But Here, which featured a similar character. A young girl without much money who must grow up faster than usual to compensate for a free-spirited irresponsible mother, few opportunities, and a desire to get out in the world and make something of herself. Where the Heart Is seems to be good-intentioned about telling the same kind of story of a young girl, but it tries to tell a five-year story in two hours with too few obstacles, too many subplots and where tragic events take the place of plot and character development. The title is referred to by Novalee in the opening moments of the film, and while it is spoken literally there, it is meant to be metaphorical about love, friendship and home. Yet it’s hard to get that message across when no heart was put into the script or direction.

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originally posted: 04/27/00 12:13:08
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User Comments

11/02/16 Suzanne five great female performances; scratch the ex-boyfriend 4 stars
10/08/07 Deirdre As manipulatively awful as it is extremely bizarre. 1 stars
12/16/06 Treecie Novalie rise above attitude & Forney's firm love kept me thinking after the end of the movi 4 stars
5/07/06 Erica Clarkson What about Tennessee residents, Tiffany? It's set in Oklahoma! 2 stars
12/20/05 cody a very good movie with good story and good actors, sexy natalie portman 4 stars
7/14/05 emily I LOVED this movie...definitely in my top 5. 5 stars
3/28/05 Emma A lovely film. One of my favourites. 5 stars
3/18/05 Tiffany Anderson great movie, although it depects tennessee residents as white trash 4 stars
7/24/04 Toni Any young mother trying to find her way can relate to this movie 5 stars
7/14/04 Jenna Furr Usually abominable A. Judd good here. Natalie P. wasted. Movie on whole is harpy feces. 1 stars
6/05/04 Tiffany Faye Hawthorne A. Judd plays more likeable char. than Sally Field or Joan Cusack. Armageddon must be near! 2 stars
6/05/04 Audrey Ruiz Ashley Judd's best movie since AMAZON WOMAN FROM URANUS. 1 stars
5/18/04 Richard This film was very educating for children over 12 but not for 2nd graders 1 stars
4/10/04 Teresa I think it is a great movie, explaning how anything could happen. 4 stars
3/26/04 Stephanie I really like the movie i eally enjoyed it! 5 stars
3/05/04 Absolute feel good? Poppycock!! Only someone bout as bad as Osama bin Ladin makes me feel good to see his legs get cut off! 2 stars
2/04/04 Aroha It is a lovely movie! An absolute feel good!!! 5 stars
10/07/03 Marie Persson I just love this movie. 5 stars
7/18/03 Chris O.K. so this isn't oscar material but by itself it's entertaing. Corny but heart-warming. 4 stars
5/30/03 Jenna Furr Usually abominable A. Judd good here. Natalie P. wasted. Movie on whole is harpy feces. 1 stars
2/03/03 Tiffany Faye Hawthorne A. Judd plays more likeable char. than Sally Field or Joan Cusack. Armageddon must be near! 2 stars
1/12/03 Iris Dementia Praecox Yeah Sure, Andrew. If I don't listen to the rednecks, so much for playing this movie! 1 stars
12/10/02 Audrey Ruiz Ashely Judd's best movie since AMAZON WOMAN FROM URANUS. 1 stars
12/03/02 jksfsdkl UG! Natalie Portman is the most overrated actress of the past few years. CRAP! 1 stars
11/28/02 Kelli Strange, but funny 4 stars
10/15/02 amy i liked it 4 stars
10/02/02 Andrew Don't listen to the to the red necks, let yourself be taken on a beautiful ride. 5 stars
9/04/02 The Chronic Mastubator Sappy and dumb. 2 stars
6/27/02 Bada Bing Crosby Ceaselessly stupid and improbable, but Joan Cusack is great in small role 2 stars
6/05/02 Tiffany Faye Hawthorne A. Judd plays more likeable char. than Sally Field or Joan Cusack. Armageddon must be near! 2 stars
3/31/02 Kacy I loved this movie. It is absolutely one of my favorites...ever! 5 stars
3/26/02 the_newindividual Great movie! 5 stars
3/16/02 Jenny Tullwartz (Joan Cusack fan in mourning) I'd rather eat my sh____(oe??) than watch what Jonn Cusack's reduced to in this. 1 stars
1/27/02 Tiffany Thunderhurst "Ballbuster" plays all sweetness and light. Is there acatch? You bet there is! 2 stars
1/14/02 Flick Chick this is one chick flick the flick chick actually liked - a bit long though. 4 stars
1/04/02 Chelsy Kenyon I liked the movie, I had to do a long paper over it. 4 stars
11/26/01 Smoogles Total chick flick ... Portman was great 5 stars
11/12/01 Jon C. Ericson Natalie only thing making this worth a look. 4 stars
9/30/01 Mohammad J. worst movie out there next to 2001 and A.I. 1 stars
9/18/01 Butterbean Glamorous trailer trash and 2hr references to Walmart can be overlooked in this good flick 4 stars
8/24/01 eka saputra i'm only like natalie 4 stars
8/03/01 brian ferrell I really wanted my own web site 5 stars
6/23/01 Mr. X I enjoyed i thoroughly. I almost cried 4 stars
4/29/01 The Jedi Droid Cute..Natelie is good & Stockard Channing & Joan Cusack are great supporting charcters 4 stars
4/16/01 LiL This was fantatic! One of the best movies I've ever seen with great actors 5 stars
4/12/01 Troy A decent moment or two do not a movie make; Cusack was much appreciated, however briefly 3 stars
3/01/01 Robert no 1 stars
2/15/01 KyLe*BrOfLoVsKi Read the book!!! Read the book!!! Read the book!!! Read the book!!! 3 stars
2/02/01 Bob Barker How many talented actors does this movie have? And it's still stupid!!!! 1 stars
8/21/00 movie chick not much interesting here 3 stars
7/31/00 Ang I thought it was a great movie 5 stars
5/27/00 Jaime N. Christley The book is available at your local Wal-Mart. Avoid it, too. 1 stars
5/19/00 jim boyd good film well acted enjoyable 5 stars
5/13/00 Americus Ashley Judd is my reason for being. & Natalie Portman scores her first good performance 5 stars
5/11/00 Kyle Broflovski "Life's a bitch & then you give birth in Wal-Mart." Whoopy. 3 stars
5/08/00 Mary Ann Surprised the boom mike didn't get star billing and it's own trailer 2 stars
5/05/00 Jessica I've read the book, and i've seen the movie. Both were great! But read the book first. 4 stars
5/01/00 MrShowbiz Portman gives birth in a Wal-Mart... and this 4 alarm hankiefest is all downhil from there. 1 stars
5/01/00 Rose Reuben It's like American Beauty, shows that everyone fucks up. It's about being optimistic. Nice. 4 stars
4/30/00 "Persnickety" this one got real old real quick,,,totally predictable! 2 stars
4/30/00 Malbert Acting was good...story was kind of dumb 3 stars
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  28-Apr-2000 (PG-13)


  31-Aug-2000 (M)

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