Saturday, 1 August 2015

No.222 : Where the Heart Is

Where the Heart Is at the IMDb

This was an early starring role for the then 19 year old Natalie Portman and although she doesn’t quite pull off the full range demanded of the character she does a decent job with limited material - a bit like many of her dresses!

Natalie plays Novalee a trailer trash teenager who is pregnant to her loser boyfriend. ‘Trailer trash’ isn’t my generalisation - it’s rote large in the film from their trailer to their toothless relations and the mullets on display. Strangely Natalie has all her teeth, is well spoken (albeit in an unconvincing drawl) and lacks any visible tattoos - still it is Hollywood!

Natalie and her man, Willy Jay, set off on a road trip in his beat up car. He’s clearly buying it in instalments as it doesn’t have a floor. This minor structural defect causes Natalie to lose her shoes and sends the hapless couple to Wal-Mart where she gets some tasteful flip-flops. Things are going well until she gets her $5.55 change and we remember that she has a phobia of the digit ‘5’ - remember that for later folks as anytime number 5 is mentioned bad things happen. Actually, don’t bother remembering as it flashes up like a bingo number being called, with endless repetition.

Anyway the 5 phobia holds true and Natalie leaves the store to find her boyfriend gone and her left with her large baby bump and a few dollars. Short of inspiration and maybe because she saw ‘The Terminal’ she decides to live in the store using the stock for her camp out. The film tries to suggest she’s not robbing them blind as she writes down her purchases in a notebook but tell that to the judge - didn’t work for me and all those TVs!

In seconds of movie time the baby is born and she becomes an instant celebrity as ‘The Wall-Mart’ mum - must have been a slow news week. Her Mom shows up in the shape of Sally Field just long enough to rob her of her new found money and to come out with what must be the worst line ever uttered “They’re all pricks in California, they should call it Prickifornia’ - solid gold. It’s not all bad however as she meets nice nurse Ashley Judd and starts a friendship that will last the length of the film

Meanwhile we also follow the runaway boyfriend’s fortune as he tries to become a music star in the care of an underused Joan Cusack. Although we know the couple will cross paths down the line his plot strands seem pointless and distracting. Natalie is however doing better and learning photography from the ‘Franks and Beans’ guy out of ‘There’s Something About Mary’ and getting babysitting help from a chap called Forney who is just a friend and not a romantic interest. Really.

As Natalie stands strong against the pressures of life, with just endless homilies to keep her safe, we wonder who she’ll end up with and whether her daughter’s 5th birthday will live up to all that foreshadowing.

I didn’t mind this film but there wasn’t an awful lot to recommend it. It’s kind of a slice of life with a troubled girl makes good theme. It takes place over several years and Natalie never ages or gains weight - apart from the ‘pregnancy’ cushion being whipped out after 10 minutes. We’re meant to sympathise with her years of struggle but I never bought into that, mainly because of the jarring jumps in the narrative that sees things move at a rate that defies any emotional involvement.

The characters and situations are weak with the romantic trajectory of the two leads obvious from the off. They keep getting let down by those bad boys…wait what about those nice men who have been hanging about for so long?!

There are some decent bits and I especially like the trailer trash standard of the tornado emergency - do those doors in the ground leading to cellars ever work?

The dialogue was poor however and at times downright unbelievable - the mulleted wannabe rock star, who falls afoul of a train, came out with some lovely meaningful chat which rang so untrue it would have been better if he’d have spoken it in Klingon!

The film runs to near two hours and it outstayed its welcome long before the inevitable happy ending. Not so much ‘Where the Heart Is’ as ‘Where’s the Remote Control? There Must Be Something better On’.

Best Bit - Tornado  Alert - where's Grandma?!
'W' Score - 15/23

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