Tuesday, February 11, 2014

"Where the Heart Is": The single mom of the "WalMart" baby discovers the epic life in the Sooner State

When you look at the Netflix envelope for the Fox 2000 (pun) film “Where the Heart Is” (directed by Matt Williams), you think the idea is a bit manipulative.  Based on the novel by Billie Letts, it sets up a single mom, Novalee Nation (Natalie Portman),  a 17 year old, abandoned by her boyfriend in Seqoyah, OK when she goes into a WalMart with sore feet.  She winds up living there, in secret and homeless, and having “the Walmart baby”.
Perhaps this starts out as a road movie (I somehow think of David Lynch and “Wild at Heart” even though the style here is much more mainstream) but it does turn into a character story about hardship, staying together, and family values. Natalie’s celebrity leads some eccentric townspeople to take care of her, and she is able eventually to pay it back, particularly as Lexie (Ashley Judd) has her own difficulties.
The plot has a lot of interesting, even challenging sidebars and concepts.  At one point, the baby Americus is kidnapped.  In another, the family is menaced by a tornado, created quite well with CGI (rivaling effects in "Twister").  Unfortunately, the storm cellar doesn’t quite save them all.  But Novalee winds up inheriting some money and assets. 
The trashy boyfriend Wily Jack Perkins (Dylan Bruno) has his own story.  After some time in jail, he tries to become a country singer, and gets sued for copyright infringement by the ex-inmate who claims he stole the song.  Later, Willy, still totally drunk, loses both legs when he is run over by a train.  Amazingly, Novalee can still care about him.
The film has a very well-known title song, “That’s the Beat of a Heart”. I remember it playing on the car radio a lot around the time of Y2K. 
Picture: Arbuckle Mountains in central OK, my trip, Nov. 2011.  

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