"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 milieu.

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 dear life.

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 given Novilee.

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 Film.

copyright 2000 by Linda Lopez McAlister. All rights reserved. Please request permission if you want to reprint or reproduce this review: mcalister@cnuma1.cas.usf.edu