Where the Heart Is (2000 film)

Where the Heart Is (2000 film)

Infobox Film
name = Where the Heart Is

|Ş imdb_id = 0198021
writer = Billie Letts (novel)
Lowell Ganz (screenplay)
starring = Natalie Portman
Ashley Judd
Stockard Channing
director = Matt Williams
distributor = 20th Century Fox
released = April 28, 2000
runtime = 120 min.
language = English
music =Mason Daring
awards =

"Where the Heart Is" is a 2000 drama/romance film directed by Matt Williams and produced by Susan Cartsonis, David McFadzean, Patricia Whitcher and Matt Williams. The film stars Natalie Portman and Ashley Judd. The screenplay, written by Lowell Ganz, is based on the best-selling novel by Billie Letts.

The film follows Novalee Nation, a pregnant 17-year-old girl from Tennessee, who sets out for California with her boyfriend. When they stop in Oklahoma, her boyfriend abandons her. Since Novalee has only a few dollars, she secretly moves into a Wal-Mart store. She gives birth to her baby, attracting media attention, and she sets up a new life with the help of new friends. The film was released by 20th Century Fox on April 28, 2000. It was filmed in Waco, Texas.

Plot summary

Seventeen and pregnant, Novalee Nation (played by Natalie Portman) sets off on a road trip from Tennessee to California in a run down old car with her boyfriend, Willy Jack Pickens. En route, the pair stop at a Wal-Mart in Oklahoma so that Novalee can use the bathroom and replace her shoes, which have fallen through a hole in the car floor while she slept. Having a superstitious fear of the number five, Novalee panics when she is given $5.55 change for her purchase of flip-flops; she runs out to the parking lot and discovers that her boyfriend has abandoned her. She sits and waits for a second and realises that she is all alone.

Sitting on a bench outside the store and unsure what to do, Novalee meets Thelma "Sister" Husband (played by Stockard Channing), the driver of the local Welcome Wagon. Thelma gives her a welcome basket. For the rest of the afternoon, Novalee browses Wal-Mart trying to figure out what to do. During that time she meets the store photographer, Moses Whitecotten (played by Keith David), who tells her to give her baby a name that means something. Feeling ill in the evening, she goes into the bathroom, and when she comes out again she discovers that the store is closed, locked and dark. She soon figures out how to live undetected in the Wal-Mart, but keeps track of everything she takes from the store, meaning to pay for it all once she gets a job.

Meanwhile, Willy Jack has picked up a girl with car trouble on his way to California. Police soon pull him over and arrest him for the robbery of a convenience store. The robbery was committed by the girl who turns out to be a fourteen-year-old runaway. Willy Jack is sent to jail for a few months, where he takes up playing the guitar.

Back in Oklahoma, Novalee takes the now-dying buckeye tree to the local library, searching for some information to help her care for it. There, she meets an odd young man named Forney Hull (played by James Frain) who works at the library while caring for his sister who is the librarian, and whose health has been ruined by alcoholism. He shows Novalee some books, but she has difficulty reading some of the words. Unable to care for her tree, and in an attempt to do the best thing for it, Novalee goes to Sister’s house and returns the gift, which the two women plant in the yard.

That night in the Wal-Mart, Novalee goes into labor. Still being afraid of the number five, Novalee was on the ground in aisle five and moves to the next lane. Forney, who watched her go into the store at closing time, jumps through a plate-glass window when he hears her screams and helps deliver her baby. The next morning at the hospital, Novalee learns from her nurse, Lexie Coop (played by Ashley Judd), that she has attracted media attention for giving birth to the "Wal-Mart Baby". When Lexie brings in the baby, she asks Novalee what she is going to name the baby. Novalee decides on Americus. Novalee's estranged mother (played by Sally Field), who had abandoned her daughter at the age of five, comes to see her after seeing Novalee on TV. After taking the money sent by Novalee's well-wishers (on the promise of securing a home for the three of them), she skips town, stranding her daughter at the hospital.She waits in the waiting area planning to meet her mother who arranged a time. Sister Husband comes to the rescue that afternoon and offers Novalee and the baby a place to stay at her home. Novalee visits the library with Americus to thank Forney. She has made four dear friends in Sister, Forney, Moses and Lexie, who is also a single mother of 4.

Meanwhile, Willy Jack has been released from jail and is pursuing a career in music.

Months later, after picking out a Christmas tree with Forney, Novalee is reminded that Americus is now exactly five months old. In a panic she rushes home to discover that the baby has been kidnapped. A Bible found in the baby's crib reminds Sister of a religious couple who had come once before, wanting to bring Novalee, an unwed mother, the word of God. The baby is found safe in a Nativity display nearby.

Willy Jack, meanwhile, has tried out at a talent agency and subsequently earned a recording contract.

A few years pass, and Novalee begins pursuing a career as a photographer. When a tornado blows through the town, she and Americus hide in an underground shelter with a neighbor and her children, but Sister is out running an errand and does not make it back in time. Sister is killed and both the trailer where they all lived and the Wal-Mart where Novalee worked are destroyed. Novalee plans to move to another town to find a job, but after the funeral, a lawyer approaches her and informs her that she is the beneficiary of Sister's estate, worth around $41,000. With the help of her friends, Novalee proceeds to build a home for herself and her young daughter on Sister's land.

Novalee and Willy Jack almost run into each other in a hotel lobby where she is accepting a photography award and he is being dumped by his manager.

Lexie and her children move in with Novalee and Americus after Lexie's current boyfriend Roger beats Lexie after sexually assaulting her two oldest children, Brownie (played by Cody Linley) and Praline.

When Forney’s sister passes away and he does not appear at the funeral, Novalee finds him in a hotel. She comforts him, and the two end up making love, after which he tells her he loves her. Forney returns to Maine to bury his sister, and when he comes back Novalee realises that he can finally go back to his old life and finish his education, leaving their small town behind. Forney says he loves her and wants to stay with her, but Novalee lies saying she does not love him, thinking that he deserves a better life than she can offer.

Lexie marries her latest boyfriend Ernie, an exterminator, who is a good father to the children from his first marriage. She advises Novalee to write to Forney, who has gone back to college, and ask him to come back to her.

Willy Jack, who has become a drunken mess, staggers out of his latest girlfriend’s car and wanders down to the train tracks, experiencing flashbacks of Novalee's voice telling him to feel where the baby's heart is. He collapses on the tracks in the path of an oncoming train, which severs his legs.

On Americus's 5th birthday, Novalee's superstitious anxiety about the number five has her worried again. She picks up a newspaper and reads a story about an amputee being robbed of his wheelchair. She realizes it is Willy Jack and visits him in the hospital. He admits that he lied to her when he said he couldn't feel the baby's heart beat. He says he wishes he could go back and undo the lie, because of how it changed his whole life.

Novalee finally realizes what a mistake she has made in lying to Forney. She drives Willy Jack home to Tennessee, and then continues to New England to find Forney. She tells him that she loves him, and they return to Oklahoma to be married in a Wal-Mart.


Differences from the novel

The opening scene with Novalee and her friends never featured in the book, which opens with Novalee and Willy Jack already on the road. This was most likely added to give a little history to the situation and explain Novalee's dislike of the number 5.

In the book, it is the number 7, not the number 5, which causes Novalee bad luck.

Throughout the book, Novalee has vivid dreams relating to her real life troubles. These were entirely eliminated for the film.

The character of Benny Goodluck is never used in the film.
*In the book, it is Benny, not Sister Husband, who gives Novalee the Buckeye tree.
*Benny is the one who sets Novalee up with the job of taking photos of one of his teacher's weddings.
*It is a photo of Benny which wins Novalee the Kodak prize.

Willy Jack's role was considerably smaller in the film.
*In the book, he meets Jolene in a bar, and they agree to meet up and run away together later on. Just like in the film, they are pulled over, and Willy Jack is arrested for the stolen goods.
*In the book, he suffers several incidences of abuse, including from the doctor who is meant to be fixing him up. However, he never gets into a fight with his cellmate.
*The character of Claire Hudson was removed for the film. In the book, she thinks Willy Jack is the reincarnation of her long dead son. She gives him a guitar and some money when he is released and copyrights "The Beat of a Heart" in her dead son's name, leading to all the trouble Willy Jack faces down the line.
*In the book, Willy Jack and Novalee are heading to California so that Willy Jack can work for the railroad with his cousin J. Paul. Although Novalee isn't aware of it, J. Paul had his thumb cut off at work, and received a large sum of compensation for it. Willy Jack plans to have a similar "accident" so that he too can be compensated. This is never mentioned in the film, though it is unclear whether this is still Willy Jack's plan.
* In the film, Willy Jack asks Novalee whether the baby was a boy or a girl, and what it was called. In the book, his cousin had told him Americus' name, and he had secretly called Novalee's house, although he never actually spoke on the phone.

In the book, Lexie is described to be much more plump than shown in the film. Throughout the book she comes up with several ways to lose weight, including using hot sauce to burn calories from food, and eating standing up. In the novel, it is only when she suffers a much more horrific attack by Roger Briscoe than portrayed in the film that she has her jaw wired shut, leading to a huge weight loss.

In the film, Novalee tells her mother that the president of Wal-Mart gave her $500 and offered her a job. In the book, Sam Walton comes to the hospital and does the same, as well as write off Novalee's Walmart debt. He is also mentioned later on in the book when he dies.

Although Forney is still a major character in the film, his role is condensed somewhat:

*In the book, he visits Novalee daily, bringing her a new book from the library, and spending a set amount of time each night reading to Americus.
*Forney cooks Novalee a beautiful birthday dinner, with candles, flowers, and gourmet food. It is at the dinner when Novalee meets Forney's sister Mary.
*Instead of going alone to Sante Fe like she does in the film, Novalee travels with Forney.
*In the film, Forney leaves town and goes to college. In the book, he travels for a short while before finally settling in a book store in Chicago.
*Forney and Novalee don't marry in the novel.


Original music for the film was produced by Mason Daring. A soundtrack was released by RCA Records.

"That's The Beat of A Heart" was performed by The Warren Brothers and featured Sara Evans, the videoclip for the song featured a number of scenes from the film.

"Flies on the Butter" is played during the end credits and was written by Austin Cunningham.


Natalie Portman was given credit for her portrayal of Novalee Nation, put simply by Roger Ebert, that "Portman is quite an actress",cite web | work=rogerebert.com | title=Where the Heart Is | url=http://rogerebert.suntimes.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20000428/REVIEWS/4280306/1023 | accessdaymonth=15 April | accessyear=2006] the acting of Judd, Field, and Channing was equally as praised by critics.

The film opened in theatres in the United States on April 8, 2000. "Where the Heart Is" accumulated (USD)$8,292,939 in its opening weekend, opening at #4.

The film went on to make $33,772,838cite web | work=boxofficemojo.com | title=Where the Heart Is | url=http://boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=wheretheheartis.htm | accessdaymonth=15 April | accessyear=2006] at the United States box office, just over twice its budget. It made $7,090,880 in international box office, for a worldwide total of $40,863,718.


* The campus scenes supposedly at Bowdoin College in Maine were actually filmed on the campus of Baylor University in Waco, Texas in the Burleson Quadrangle, in front of the Caroll Science Building and Draper.
* In the novel Americus is born in May 1987.


External links

*imdb title|id=0198021|title=Where the Heart Is
* [http://boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=wheretheheartis.htm "Where the Heart Is"] at Boxofficemojo.com

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