Pregnant teen Novalee is left in deepest Oklahoma by her no-good boyfriend whilst on the way to California. She gives birth in the local Wal-Mart and becomes a local celebrity when shes adopted by the eccentric townsfolk.
Every once in a while a film comes along with a cast so accomplished that its hard to see how it can miss. Where The Heart Is is one such movie, peopled by Hollywood luminaries from Stockard Channing to Queen Amidala herself. Even more encouraging is the screenplays pedigree, coming from the writing team behind, among others, Parenthood (1989) and City Slickers (1991) . And yet miss it does.
On paper, while not wildly original, its not a dreadful story. Eschewing comedy for weepy drama, Ganz and Mandel have opted for the standard tale of rags to riches (with a mildly feminist spin), set against the redneck backdrop of the American Mid-West. As fairytales go its always been a bit of a winner, and Novalees initial camp-out in a backwater Wal-Mart adds a winningly quirky touch. In fact, up until she gives birth the film is perfectly competent. Sadly, it is from this point that things start to unravel, as a kindly - but stunningly unlucky - bunch of slightly oddball neighbours take the single mom under their collective wing.
This at first works just fine, with sexually voracious/alcoholic God bod Channing, surrogate big sis Judd, and timid knight-in-shining-armour Frain on good form. However, what could have been a subtle examination of their respective relationships recedes into the distance, as a succession of TV movie-style disasters (devastating tornado, violent/paedophile boyfriend, tragic death) and equally unlikely lucky breaks for Novalee destroy any sense of authenticity; its all you can do not to laugh at the ever more desperate plotting on show.
Portman, as always, gives good value for money and Judd is a pleasure to watch. Unfortunately, this cannot compensate for the perfunctory and strangely soulless film they find themselves in.
Not the worst film youve ever seen, just a retread of every Cinderella story thats come before. This is not a crime in itself - but underusing the exceptional talent on show is.