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  Where The Heart Is (2000)
     
 
 





This mini-series pretending to be a movie puts the ick into chick flick.
(Cosmo Landesman, Sunday Times)
In terms of young Hollywood talent, Natalie Portman is a princess, which makes it all the more puzzling why director-producer Matt Williams should have cast her as trailer-trash - you might as well have cast Audrey Hepburn as a Mexican hooker in a Sam Peckinpah movie.
(Anne Billson, Sunday Telegraph)
Where The Heart Is is an involuntary send-up of the Woman-As-Victim movie. Natalie Portman plays a gormless, teenage mum abandoned by her boorish boyfriend Willie Jack (Dylan Bruno) and befriended by a saintly alcoholic called, wait for it, Sister Husband.
Sister is played by Stockard Channing with a smile so bravely beatific that she could be auditioning for Mother Superior in The Sound of Music, or possibly (if she blacked up) the lead in The Whoopi Goldberg Story.
But a tornado hits town, and Sister goes out to help a neighbour saying "I'll be right back". Before you know it, the rest of the cast are sniffling and irreverent members of the audience are wondering why the budget wouldn't run to a shot of Sister sailing bravely through the air like the cow in Twister.
But then the plot's off again, like Gone With The Wind with added tornadoes; and our feisty heroine bonds with another member of the sisterhood in the form of a nurse (Ashley Judd), so unversed in birth control that she has had four children by different, equally worthless men, and so trashy yet lovable that she names her babies after convenience foods.
Crazed fundamentalist Christians who believe in God The Patriarch kidnap our heroine's symbolic daughter, who is called - would you believe? - Americus. They threaten to kill the poor little mite as "an abomination in the sight of the Lord".
Then poor Ashley Judd gets beaten up by a paedophile businessman. Like the crazed fundamentalists, he goes unpunished by an uncaring society.
But don't worry - there is justice in the world. Our heroine's nasty boyfriend gets drunk and has his legs amputated by a passing train, which serves him right, I guess.
Our heroine gets dewy-eyed about the sensitive local librarian (James Frain) but thinks that just because she's illiterate she ain't good enough for him. But she is, of course, and her only other male friend Moses Whitecotton (Keith David) - who's black and therefore has sympathy for oppressed womanhood - helps her become a prize-winning photographer.
Screenwriters Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel show flashes of wit in an entirely gratuitous subplot which involves the excellent Joan Cusack as a tough showbiz agent who takes on our heroine's old flame, when he still has legs, and then punches him to the floor. Most of the script, however, is on a par with their previously most ghastly creation, the Robin Williams and Billy Crystal fiasco, Father's Day.
Some fault must lie with Billie Letts, upon whose novel this film is based, and who bears much the same relationship to Catherine Cookson as Jeffrey Archer does to Fyodor Dostoyevsky.
The actresses treat each melodramatic, soap operatic contrivance with commendably straight faces, and the audience is presumably expected to do the same. But belief is hard to sustain, especially as the Misses Portman and Judd, playing paupers from Oklahoma, are as beautifully coiffed and made up as if they were about to go shopping in Beverly Hills.
The action drags itself over a wildly eventful five years, but no one seems to age at all - unless, of course, you include the audience.
(Chris Tookey, Daily Mail)

Key to Symbols