Review: Where the Heart is (2000)

Directed by: Matt Williams | 120 minutes | drama, comedy, romance | Actors: Natalie Portman, Ashley Judd, Channing Stockard, Joan Cusack, James Frain, Dylan Bruno, Keith David, Ray Prewitt, Laura House, Karey Green, Mary Ashleigh Green, Kinna Mclnroe, Laura Auldridge, Alicia Godwin, Dennis Letts

A film about a young, insecure girl who is heavily pregnant and abandoned by her boyfriend, you expect in advance that it will be a compelling drama. Director Matt Williams had the choice to turn this into an original, daring film with unexpected twists. However, he decided not to, and to leave this fairly predictable story for what it is and to give the viewer confirmation of what he hopes and expects to happen with Novalee (Portman) throughout the film. Fortunately, because by not expanding and adapting this intimate story too much, this film touches the hearts of every viewer. Putting so many emotions in one film seems almost impossible. Still, Williams gets it done with the help of Natalie Portman, who puts in an impressive performance as the beautiful young Novalee.

The young Portman has previously shown himself to be a top talent by starring at a very young age in films such as “Heat” (1995) and “Léon” (1994) alongside actors such as Al Pacino, Robert de Niro and Val Kilmer. Portman makes the viewer forget who she really is. You don’t look at a top actress playing a role, but at the seventeen-year-old Novalee who tries to keep herself going with her daughter Americus. As a viewer you believe the story and you are completely sucked into it. First you see the startled and intensely sad Novalee who realizes that she has been abandoned by her boyfriend. Then comes the brave Novalee who tries to survive in the department store and becomes famous for her Wal-Mart baby.

What is particularly clear is the naive nature of the young mother. This makes sense, because who knows how to raise a child as a seventeen-year-old girl? At a young age we learn that your mother is the person you can trust the most, but at Novalee that is by no means the case. As a viewer, you want to crawl through the TV screen to warn Novalee and save her another disappointment. However, the strong Novalee struggles through all the setbacks and tries to fight for her and her daughter. We see Novalee as a fearful, sad, strong and insecure woman, but above all we see her love for her daughter Americus, which is stronger than all the misery she has to deal with.

The location of this intimate film fits the story perfectly. The man and woman who takes care of Novalee live in a small village that can hardly be called a village. Everyone knows each other and knows everything about each other. The friendship between Novalee and Lexie is very special and because of all the misery that these two young mothers seem to attract, they get closer and closer. The naivety of Novalee is again apparent from the fact that she only starts to realize what Forney means to her at the end of the film, while as a viewer you already realize from the first moment what is about to happen between the two. In order to portray all situations and emotions in this film properly and credibly, a top actress is needed who, fortunately, Williams managed to bring in with Natalie Portman. “Where the Heart is” has become an emotional and compelling film, and yes, the film is also very predictable and sweet, but certainly no less beautiful.

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