From abandoned, pregnant, jobless, and homeless living in a Wal-Mart, to a successful photographer, financially stable homeowner, with a loving family.... this is the just of the movie Where The Heart Is. Through the life journey of Novalee Nation, the character played by new actor on the scene Natalie Portman, this movie reflects on the idea of God giving us obstacles in life and that to overcome and move on we must use our own strength. as well as the strength of others.
"Feel that? Ba bump, ba bump, ba bump? That's where the heart is," says Novalee as she presses her boyfriend's hand against her stomach to feel the baby inside. These are the last words spoken before boyfriend Billy Jack Pickman leaves Novalee for good and her struggles begin. Stranded in an Oklahoma Wal-Mart, Novalee is left to give birth to her baby girl, Americus.
With no family, friends, or home, Novalee manages to be taken in by a woman who treats her and Americus like family. She finds a best friend and gets a job. With her superstition about the number five being bad luck, tragedy strikes for Novalee whenever this number comes up. But throughout it all: her baby's kidnapping, the lose of a friend, or a death, in the end everything always seems to work out okay or even better in the end for Novalee.
Novalee even manages to find romance with the local librarian, Fearny. She develops a close relationship with the shy, intelligent man who is, unbeknownst by her, in love with her. Through this relationship Novalee comes to terms with her own self worth as she realizes her own love for Fearny and where her own heart is. Don't expect any surprises in the end when Novalee is left with the decision of whether to pursue her love for Fearny or let him go.
Through all Novalee's struggles, she is guided by Lexie, played by Ashley Judd, her good friend from the start. Lexie's carefree attitude towards life counteracts Novalee's critical, thoughtful, character, afraid to trust again after her losses. The two make for a good pair and there even comes a time where Novalee must help Lexie in her own time of crisis.
Yet another character who helps Novalee, after not knowing her at all, is Wal-Mart photographer, Moses. The tall, gentle black man, acting as Novalee's mentor, represents someone who has gone through his own struggles and can offer his wisdom as a guide for Novalee. His character, not really a part of Novalee's other friends, is somewhat of an outsider, and alludes to a being much greater. It is Moses who encourages Novalee in her interest of photography, eventually leading to a career. He is also the inspiration for her baby's name. His first advice to Novalee was to give her baby a strong name with meaning. After all, "you can't go through life," he says, "without a strong name".
Perhaps the most realistic character in the movie is Novalee's mom, played by Sally Field. In her big two minutes on screen, she promises a new life with Novalee and Americus after leaving her daughter years ago. But the next day she forgets to come through on her promise to pick Novalee up at nine o'clock, sharp.
As an audience watching the movie, we're left wondering if we should be happy, sad, or feel pity for Novalee. Are the stuggles she encounters supposed to make us be thankful for our lives, "struggle-free" compared to Novalee's?
Because it seems like Novalee, despite her superstition about fives, seems to run into quite a bit of luck in the movie. Realistic? Not really. Sounds to me like a conveniently planned screen play where the viewer is left feeling happy at the end of the movie. Maybe the movie is supposed to inspire us to overcome and to feel that we are worth fighting against struggles that come our way in life. If so, I'll say that it didn't seem that Novalee had to work for much of anything in the movie. Her house, job, and money were all handed to her.
And exactly what did Joan Cusak and Billy's singing career have to do with anything anyway? I was confused by how Billy was initially portrayed as a "scum-bag" loser, selfish in deserting his pregnant girlfriend. From these actions and the way he talked to Novalee one could tell that love was the last thing he felt for her. Even after he left, the movie still showed clips of Billy's pathetic, and yet humorous life in prison. And yet at the end of the movie, legs gone from a train accident, he's suddenly all serious, claiming he made a mistake leaving Novalee because he loved her. What! However bizarre this character change (with no development to support it) Novalee does apply Billy's mistake to her own situation and finally stops blaming herself for Billy's departure.
Natalie Portman shows her talent as an actor in this movie playing a role that is quite different from any of the other characters. Novalee never fully fits in with any of her friends or family. Because of this she stands out in the movie.
As I watched, I couldn't help feeling that the movie lacked something in storyline and that the development of characters and situations was not complete. As I got bored and, as the movie drew to an end, I found myself not really caring where the heart was.