Where the Heart Is (2000)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Where the Heart Is</strong> (2000)

(In French, On Cable TV, November 2018) The obvious hook for describing Where the Heart Is remains “Pregnant girl lives in a Wal-Mart,” but as it turns out that only explains the first third of a film that covers quite a bit more ground. (Also: While it’s satisfying to condemn a film for offering a big spotlight to Wal-Mart, I’m wondering when realism trumps anti-corporatism: If you had to live somewhere while homeless in a small town, Wal-Mart would be a good option.) (Independently of this movie, which I only discovered recently, I came up years ago with a party question that went “If you had to spend thirty days living in a store, which one would you choose?” and the answer was nearly always Wal-Mart.) Nathalie Portman stars as a young woman who ends up marooned in a small town after her boyfriend’s abandonment during a road trip, and the story covers roughly the six following years of her life, through various personal and small-town troubles. Ashley Judd is featured as her new best friend (she gets the film’s best lines), with a few other name actors such as Joan Cusack and Stockard Channing in supporting roles. Since the film is adapted from a novel, this gives Where the Heart Is a more freewheeling quality in terms of plotting and subplots—in particular, following the no-good ex-boyfriend through an abortive musical career. On the other hand, the film does feel unfocused and messy as a series of crises loosely held together chronologically. Several viewers will be allergic to the blatant product placement, not just for Wal-Mart, but for what the characters are drinking as well. It could have been a TV movie with lesser actors. While Where the Heart Is does deal with lower-class white people, it’s not always clear whether it has sympathy for them, as it sometimes milks laughs out of some stereotypes. It doesn’t make for a particularly good film, although the premise could have been developed in a far more interesting way.

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