Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

'Where the Heart Is' a Colorful Soap Opera with Light Touch

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

'Where the Heart Is' a Colorful Soap Opera with Light Touch

Article excerpt

Where the Heart Is is a sprawling soap opera about oddly-named likable characters in America's vast heartland, a colorful crew with all kinds of problems and joys.

It's the movie adaptation of Billie Lett's book, one of Oprah Winfrey's book-club novels, and its fans are likely to be pleased.

It follows the tribulations of 17-year-old Novalee Nation, who's "never lived anyplace that didn't have wheels under it," and who now finds herself extremely pregant and all alone in the world.

Natalie Portman is Novalee, who's heading from Tennessee to California in an $80 Plymouth with her boyfriend Willy Jack Pickens (Dylan Bruno).

He's such a tank top-wearing lunkhead that he's not even headed for the California coast -- his dreamed-of destination is dusty Bakersfield.

But when they make a restroom stop at a Wal-Mart in Oklahoma, Willy Jack bolts, leaving Novalee, still very pregnant, waiting in the parking lot. She's got no place to go, so she sets up house inside the store, hiding until it closes at night, waking up early in the morning to sneak out before it opens.

She slowly meets some of the characters who live in this little town: the alcoholic, kindly wagon woman, Sister Husband (Stockard Channing); an earthy nurse, Lexie (Ashley Judd), whose children are named after snack foods; the odd, hyper-intelligent librarian, Forney (James Frain); and a helpful photographer (Keith David).

Everyone's nice in this movie, except for Willy Jack and a couple of outsiders. A few grinches may find that too saccharine, but it's really where the movie's charm comes from.

The story's message is simple, but heartfelt: These people are friends who become family, even though they're not blood relations.

Though she never looks any older as the years progress in the story, just more sophisticated, Portman is fine, if not quite as nuanced as she was in Anywhere But Here, her mother-daughter drama with Susan Sarandon last year.

Frain, an English actor (Hilary and Jackie, Reindeer Games) with a soulful, unconventionally handsome appearance, is perfectly cast as Forney, who's wildly in love with Novalee even though she thinks of him, mostly, as a friend. …

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