You can watch a movie about a billionaire weapons designer who single-handedly saves New York from an alien invasion ooooor you can warm up to a story about a young woman who gives birth in an Oklahoma Wal-Mart. Your choice. We all have our preferences. Although, if you analyse it deep enough, the plots are very similar: both characters are without family; both struggle to find romance despite their vocations; both rely on the help of extraordinary human beings (hyperactive fertility is an extraordinary ability); and both are Facebook friends with Natalie Portman. Where is the heart, you ask? Sitting in a glass box on Tony Stark‘s desk.
At 17, Novalee Nation (Natalie Portman) gets knocked up. With nothing but optimism and a new Polaroid camera, she leaves her trailer home to start a new life in California with her dirt bag boyfriend, Willy Jack Pickens (Dylan Bruno). The couple only make it as far as Oklahoma, however, before they realize Novalee’s shoes have been claimed by the hole in the car floor. And, to boot, she gotta pee. You can practically hear the chorus of angels sing when a Wal-Mart appears over the next ridge. Novalee makes a barefoot dash for the loo, giving Willy Jack the perfect opportunity to take the car and run to Vegas. Alone with nothing but innocence and $5.55, Novalee figures out how to live in the Wal-Mart undetected – until the arrival of her baby throws that plan out the window. Thanks to persistence and a gentle soul, Novalee pulls herself through the next five years by relying on the kindness of strangers and never being afraid to roll out the sofa bed for The Worst Case Scenario.
Where the Heart Is takes us through all the important moments over a five-year period. It’s a real story of maturity that, like real life, is both hilariously honest and terrifyingly tragic. For a tale about a repeatedly abandoned teenager raising her baby on her own, Where the Heart Is is unexpectedly innocent. Novalee doesn’t let the world harden her, only strengthen her. Sure, not all of her decisions are the brightest (it’ll be hard to find a fridge magnet for a name like Americus Nation), but they are all made with good intentions to support those that supported her.
Next to Novalee we have a cast of creative characters who are equal parts sweet and alarmingly bold. Sister Husband (Stockard Channing) is a balance of honest, protective, religious, and hot for Mr. Sprock (Richard Andrew Jones). Meal-time prayers usually end with blessing the table that supported their fornication earlier that day. Amen. Across town we have Novalee’s best friend, Lexie Coop (Ashley Judd), who’s idea of a first date usually ends in another baby. The town daycare is doing very well by her. These characters are thrown through the wash-rinse-tumble-dry cycle, facing everything from kidnapped family members to tornadoes and spousal abuse. You’d think Where the Heart Is would be as melodramatic as it sounds, but I promise you it isn’t. Well, it is. But it’s also polka-dotted with visits from the awkward librarian, Forney (James Frain), and classic 90’s pop tunes.
While Where the Heart Is technically sits in the comedy section on Netflix it branches out beyond that. It’s a strangely comfortable movie, with just enough relatable embarrassment and believable fear blended into one delicious experience. The characters are like your weird neighbours that put weird crap on their lawns but are just so nice you let them borrow your hammock anyway. Where the Heart Is is dotted with emotional performances and is an easy movie to sit back and chill with in the summer heat. Grab a smoothie, manspread, and settle in for a 7/10.