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Not until Novalee Nation (Natalie Portman) finds herself abandoned and very pregnant in a Wal-Mart parking lot does she pause to consider her boyfriend's character -- or lack thereof. Leaving Tennessee, Willy (Dylan Bruno) promised to drive her to California, but got impatient when she wanted to stop for a restroom at the Oklahoma department store. For the next few weeks she survives by sneaking into the store just before closing time, sleeping in a camping display and feasting on crackers and junk food. Then, one dark and stormy night, labor begins.
The "Wal-Mart Baby" is a hit with Wal-Mart management and the media, but soon the party ends. With no family to support her, Novalee becomes acquainted with Sister Husband (Stockard Channing), a recovering alcoholic who offers to take her in.
Along with Sister's help, Novalee finds comfort from Lexie (Ashley Judd), a nurse and single mother with four children -- from different fathers. She also meets Forney (James Frain), a young man who runs the library while looking after his alcoholic sister. Compared to them, Novalee's life almost looks easy.
Clocking in at over two hours, this movie's huge cast of characters and their many trials (often caused by bad decisions and alcohol) makes for a sobering experience. But what saves this movie from being a simple portrait of sad choices, is the contrast between some of the characters' definition of love. While Forney has sacrificed everything to care for his sister, Lexie has tried to find love through sex. Not until Lexie is severely beaten and her children assaulted does she realize that a nice car doesn't indicate the quality of a man. This revelation, and its impact on Novalee, may provide guidance for young women struggling with similar issues.
However one could also argue that this film's happy ending provides ample justification for becoming a single parent. For these reasons, and the abundant profanity, this movie should be carefully assessed prior to showing it to teens. And I suspect that Wal-Mart stores may need to increase their overnight security in the future.
Where The Heart Is is rated PG-13:
Cast: Natalie Portman, Stockard Channing, Ashley Judd
Studio: 2000 20th Century Fox