"Where the Heart is"
A movie Review
by Linda Lopez McAlister
On "The Women's Show"
WMNF-FM 88.5 Tampa, FL
"Where the Heart Is" is one of those movies whose title is hard
to remember because it sounds like so many other movies--and, indeed, my
research shows that there have been at least four films over the years
with that title. Nonetheless, the 2000 version is one that you will not
forget after you have seen it. It is based on the novel by Billie
Letts, herself a native of Oklahoma where this story takes place. It
definitely reflects the experiences of many working class women in this
This is also the film in which Natalie Portman moves from
teenage girl to adult woman. Just a few months ago she was Susan
Sarandon's pouty teenage daughter in "Anywhere But Here." In this film
she starts out with all the naivete of a 17 year old named Navilee
Nation, but she grows up quickly when her boyfriend Willy Jack Pickens
abandons her, pregnant and nearly penniless in the parking lot of a Wal
Mart in Sequoyah, OK while he continues on toward Vegas. How she will
manage is a mystery until she has to go to the bathroom just as the
store is closing and finds that she has been locked in for the night.
You can survive quite well living in a closed Wal Mart, she discovers,
and continues to sleep there every night for the next six weeks,
carefully writing down how much she owes for food she has taken.
Then one night, in the midst of a big storm, her water breaks and she
is terrified and alone. The town librarian, Forney Hull, an excentric
guy played by James Frain, hears her screams and comes crashing through
the plate glass window and delivers her baby. When she wakes up in the
hospital she's quite a celebrity having given birth to the "Wal Mart
Baby." It's such good publicity for Wal Mart that they give her money
and a job at any Wal Mart in the country. She settles in with Sister
Husband the town's "Welcome Woman" played by Stockard Channing, and her
gentleman friend. She makes a friend in nurse Lexie Coop played by
Ashley Judd, and discovers that the aforementioned Forney is quite a
nice guy and devoted to her child.
Lots of things happen in this movie so it holds your interest
very well and avoids predictability. The director Matt Williams is
making his feature film debut but has done a great deal of television
work including the Roseanne show. He and his cinematographer and editor
do some really nifty work. A tornado scene is shot in such a way that
makes even the people in the audience grab the armrests and hang on for
The actors are all wonderful and they bring vividly to life the
life experiences of many rural, working class women. Lexie has had five
kids looking for a decent man and then falls for another who turns out
to be a child molester; Sister Husband is a recovering alcoholic .
Even Novilee's mother (Sally Field in a cameo role), who abandoned her
when she was a kid shows up when she sees Novilee on television, only to
abandon her again when she gets her hands on the $500 Wal Mart had
The message of the film is about having the courage to be
emotionally honest. Willy Jack Pickens, after having failed in his
country music career and lost his legs in a train accident, comes back
into Novalee's life long enough to tell her that he lied to her when he
told her he couldn't hear the heart of their baby beating inside the
womb. He was scared and so he lied. This gives Navilee, finally, the
courage to confess the time she lied about her feelings and to try to
make it right before it's too late.
This is a warm and appealing film with at least four vivid portraits
of Southern working women on their own.
For the WMNF Wommen's Show this is Linda Lopez McAlister on Women and
copyright 2000 by Linda Lopez McAlister. All rights reserved. Please
request permission if you want to reprint or reproduce this review: