(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.
(Netflix Streaming, December 2015) Being slightly better than the average may be a compliment, but it isn’t much of one. It’s a wonder than anyone even remembers Kiss the Girls nearly twenty years later given how generic it can be at times: I may have reached my limit of how many psycho-killer-targets-young-women films I can stand, and Kiss the Girls is definitely an entirely average example of the sub-genre. At least the film can depend on Morgan Freeman (with darker hair and a bit more energy than today) and Ashley Judd to give the film a bit of interest, as well as a second-act escape that makes the film more interesting than most similar ones. Otherwise, the story meanders a bit, goes on for too long, manages to end in the most predictable fashion and doesn’t make itself memorable in any way. There’s a bit of competence in the cinematography, but much of Kiss the Girls is dull in the ways movies about quasi-magical serial killers can be, going over familiar ground in the most exasperating fashion. While Kiss the Girls gets a few extra points here and there, they’re not enough to make the film worth visiting.
(On-demand video, April 2012) Here’s my new life pro-tip for cinephiles: “Get premium cable TV channels for the big Hollywood movies; keep it for the smaller films that you wouldn’t have seen otherwise!” Flypaper may not have been seen in theaters, but on the small screen it makes for a clever and satisfying crime mystery. The film does take a while to find its footing, as a quirky savant finds himself in the middle of two simultaneous bank robberies: for a while, Flypaper’s tone remains fuzzy as it veers between a serious crime film and a more light-hearted comedy. But such initial sputters a common in dark comedies, and Flypaper soon finds itself on firmer footing as the real nature of its convoluted plot becomes more apparent. Patrick Dempsey is the anchor of the film as a troubled genius investigating the crime in which he’s being held hostage, while Ashley Judd makes for a compelling heroine. Some of the supporting characters do the best work, though, as with the banter between blue-collar bank robbers played by Tim Blake Nelson and Pruitt Taylor Vince, or a small-but-showy part for Jeffrey Tambor. The dialogue is occasionally witty, the script is a cut above most crime comedies, and the inspired direction has its moments. Flypaper is a dark-horse, hidden-gem kind of low-budget film: small cast but a capable script and well-handled filmmaking. It wraps up on a high note, and leaves a great impression.