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Where the Heart Is

A very young and very pregnant Novalee Nation (Natalie Portman) is abandoned at a Wal-Mart by one of the many no-good boyfriends populating this chicken-fried mess of a movie.


After experiencing all the joys of living in a discount department store, Novalee pulls herself up by her bootstraps (well, bare feet) with the help of a kooky crew that includes Sister Husband (Stockard Channing as a wacky born-again) and Lexie Coop (Ashley Judd as a mother of about a half-dozen kids, all named after junk foods). This weepy waste of time is a chore to watch. As Judd's brat-laden Lexie beds down every inbred redneck she can find, Novalee puts all her perky energy into avoiding the only guy in the film who passes as human. For all their reliance on homespun wisdom, common sense never seems to enter into their choices.


Portman deserves some credit for emerging from this debacle with a trace of dignity, however, Judd is on shaky ground after this dud and last year's predictable "Double Jeopardy." About the only thing heartrending in this movie is watching proven actresses such as Stockard Channing and Sally Field trapped in this celluloid nightmare. Have things really gotten this bad for actresses over 40? Joan Cusack, who is characteristically comical in the role of a music promoter, turns in the only redeeming performance.


Note to director Matt Williams: What were you thinking? The film rambles on like this: disaster happens off screen, characters weep, mumble some nonsensical dime-store philosophy about being poor but sturdy and brace for the next bout of misery. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. It would be comforting to call this effort well intentioned, but I can't imagine that anyone involved had any greater aspiration than getting Oprah's Book Club to line up for this sorry film.

Bottom Line

The Lifetime Channel does it better. Order basic cable and stay home.