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Movie Review

Where the Heart Is

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense thematic material, language, and sexual content

Reviewed by: Debbie James

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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Teens, Adults
Comedy, Drama
2 hr. 10 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
Natalie Portman in “Where the Heart Is”
Featuring: Natalie Portman, Stockard Channing, Simon Bennett, Joan Cusack, Ashley Judd
Director: Matt Williams
Producer: Matt Williams, David McFadzean, Susan Cartsonis
Distributor: Twentieth Century Fox

Natalie Portman shines brilliantly in “Where the Heart Is”. She plays the part of pregnant 17-year-old Novalee Nation, traveling with her boyfriend, Willy Jack Pickens (Dylan Bruno). They are en route to California where he’s hoping to pursue a music career. When she asks to stop at a Wal-Mart store in Sequoyah, Oklahoma, to use the restroom, he abandons her there to fend for herself. Having only a few dollars and knowing no one in town, she ends up living in the Wal-Mart.

Ashley Judd and Natalie Portman in “Where the Heart Is” Eventually, she makes friends with several women, who become her “family.” Sister Husband (Stockard Channing) takes the place of her mother (who abandoned her) and gives her a place to stay once her baby is born and her plight is broadcast on television; and Lexie Coop (Ashley Judd), also a young unwed mother, becomes her best friend. She also meets a young man, Forney Hull (James Frain), who befriends her and becomes a father-figure for her little girl.

Together they all help her to pull her life together; and that is what makes the story so endearing. The developing relationships feel very realistic, and watching Portman’s character grow into a young woman is a joy to watch.

Areas of concern

One couple has brief sexual encounter (nothing explicit—several glimpses of kissing, a bare back, etc., and a couple under the sheets together); and another couple briefly makes out. One character is a religious woman who fornicates with her boyfriend, but otherwise is a good example for Novalee. (This is never shown, but she does pray for forgiveness for this several times.) There are about 30 uses of common swear words, about 20 improper uses of the Lord’s name, and several instances of off-color words, mild sexual discussions, and innuendoes. The violence is brief and minimal, with the exception of a woman who is bloody from being beaten by a man who she caught molesting her children. (The actual beating/molesting is not seen, but is described.) In addition, several characters occasionally drink or smoke.

Viewer Comments
As I sat in the theater, I couldn’t help but think, “Wow! This is how love should be.” However, I was also saddened by the fact that the love of a person was the only thing any of the characters sought after. In my opinion, there is no one on this Earth who can comfort like the Lord. While the romance was great in this movie (and what woman wouldn’t appreciate it?), I still felt like each of the characters wanted something more—something they wouldn’t find in each other. Sexual impurity is dangerous and hurtful in one’s relationship with Christ. However, even more painful would be the realization that at the end of your life, you have forsaken a relationship with Christ that is more precious than any. My Ratings: [4/4]
—Ashley Warren, age 21
This movie looks good, sounds good, and has terrific characters with the perfect people to pull it off. You will enjoy this movie ONLY IF you can park your brain at the door (or if you are so young as to buy the nonsense that is sold you in the movie). All of the story lines blend together to give you only a feel-good image of the bankrupt philosophies that are at the root of the story; most men are jerks, sexual experimentation is the correct way to find a mate, continual sin can be easily forgiven by saying prayer before meals, living together is acceptable verses marriage, stealing is O.K. if you are poor enough, and the list goes on. The brightest spots in the movie came from the person the writers attempted to make the sleeziest; Willy Jack! What a hoot! He was hilarious. Many other parts of the plot were an insult to any thinking person; a Nurse naming her many children after candy snacks, several months of sleeping in a Walmart USING items (including hygene) and them putting them back, a sexual encounter immediately after a funeral where the man is supposedly heartbroke (C’mon!) My Ratings: [1/4]
—Steve Loewen, age 40
I thought that this movie was very good, and I really think that Natalie Portman has good principals, not only in the movie, but in actual life. At one point in the movie she makes a comment about God not loving her or something because she had premarital sex. Some of the language could have been done without, however. I think that it was a very true to life movie, and that it has a very good message. I recommend it to anyone! My Ratings: [3½/4½]
—C., age 15
I fully enjoyed “Where the Heart Is”. Although there are immoral aspects to the movie as mentioned above, I believe this is a case where the positive far outweighs the negative. I don’t believe the screenplay was written to accuse all Christians of being unloving, but simply to point out the hypocrisy of the ones who are. The various characters’ warmth and love to one another left me feeling refreshed. I believe this is entertainment of the highest quality, for I was touched for days to come after I viewed the film. Many of us could take learn a lesson of unconditional love and caring from this film. It should be further noted, that the screenplay shows integrity in its closeness to the novel upon which it is based. My Ratings: [3½/3½]
—Lizzie, age 20
This is one of the most heartfelt and endearing movies of the year! Natalie Portman, Ashely Judd, and Stockard Channing perfectly embody their parts in this film. The story is about a young pregnant girl named Novalee who is left at a Oklahoma Wal-Mart by her boyfriend who is headed for California. She quietly moves into the store eating food from the shelves and using other products. She finally gives birth on the floor and becomes an instant celebrity. Her nurse, Lexie, becomes a surrogate big sister. With nowhere to go, Sister Husband, a woman she had met only once, offers her a place to stay. Over the years Novalee has grown up into an independent sucessful woman and finds out where the heart is. My Ratings: [3½/5]
—Jordan Strong, age 16
When I saw this movie, a few of my friends refused to watch it with me. They said that how the characters act wasn’t Christian-like (which it isn’t) and that my head/mind would be in the “gutter” for the rest of my life. But I decided to watch it anyway. At the end, I realized that actually, instead of thinking, “Oh—It must be okay to do all those things!” I thought, “Wow… I didn’t realize that people ACTUALLY have to live messed up lives like that.” After the movie was over I prayed several times for people who have to grow up like that; even though I don’t really know anyone like that. The only things I didn’t like about it were stuff like the use of the “s”-word (a few times), the one sex scene (as mentioned above, only bare back and kissing), and how they portrayed the Christians. I think it was wrong for the script writers to show them as people who think God hates all children who are born out of wedlock. But other than that, I really liked the movie. I recommended it to all my friends; even the ones who told me not to go see it. My Ratings: [3/5]
—A.S., age 15