Where The Heart Is

on April 28, 2000 by Annlee Ellingson
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   The story is sweet enough: Pregnant Novalee Nation (Natalie Portman), on her way to California in an $80 car with her boyfriend, Willy Jack Pickens (Dylan Bruno), is abandoned at an Oklahoma Wal-Mart, where she camps out and, six weeks later, gives birth. Through the compassion of her natal nurse Lexie (Ashley Judd), a single mother who has several children of her own, and Sister Husband (Stockard Channing), who takes her in, Novalee gets a job, takes care of her baby and eventually builds a home, all the while denying her budding romance with the local librarian Forney (Ray Prewitt), who went to college briefly before settling down to take care of his mentally ill sister.

   In a story that spans several years, 18-year-old Portman strains her credibility as the mother of a five-year-old, but in her scenes with veterans Channing and Sally Field (who drops by for a cameo) and emerging Hollywood player Judd, she exhibits a maturity that makes their men-are-scum-we-can-only-rely-on-each-other relationships credible.

   Unfortunately, she doesn't demonstrate the same chemistry in her romantic relationship. As Forney, Prewitt is handsome and charming enough, but he just seems too old for Novalee.

   Meanwhile, Willy Jack goes to jail for a few months, tries and fails at a career as a country-western singer and has his legs severed in a freak train accident in a secondary storyline that culminates in a conversation that encourages Novalee to pursue her true love. Ultimately, though, the audience doesn't care about Willy Jack and can hardly be expected to invest any emotional time in a character who deserts the heroine so heartlessly early in the film. Starring Natalie Portman, Ashley Judd, Stockard Channing, Joan Cusack and Sally Field. Directed by Matt Williams. Written by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel. Produced by Susan Cartsonis and Matt Williams. A Fox release. Romantic comedy. Rated PG-13 for intense thematic material, language and sexual content. Running time: 120 min

Tags: Starring Natalie Portman, Ashley Judd, Stockard Channing, Joan Cusack and Sally Field. Directed by Matt Williams. Written by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, Produced by Susan Cartsonis, Matt Williams, Fox, Romantic comedy
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