Picks and Pans Review: Where the Heart Is

updated 05/08/2000 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/08/2000 01:00AM

Natalie Portman, Ashley Judd, Stockard Channing, James Frain

The teenage heroine of this well-meaning but mawkish tale hates the number 5. She believes that anything bad that happens to her involves that number, beginning when she was 5 years old and her mother abandoned her to run off with a baseball umpire. Well, here are five things that are wrong with this movie:

1. Its depiction of small-town America is so patently saccharine that the sweetness becomes oppressive.

2. It's the first film to have a Wal-Mart store play a lead role. Will a Target star in the sequel?

3. The major characters are all way too nice or way too mean, never realistically somewhere in between.

4. No one in the film is named plain old Jim or Sue, but rather Novalee, Sister Husband or Americus.

5. Sally Field shows up for only one tiny scene.

Where the Heart Is, based on a 1995 novel by Billie Letts that was an Oprah's Book Club pick, is about spunky 17-year-old Novalee (Portman), who is left barefoot and pregnant—literally—at a Wal-Mart in rural Oklahoma by her beau (Dylan Bryant) while on their way to California. She secretly sets up house in the store, has her baby there and is soon befriended by excessively colorful locals, including a randy recovering alcoholic (Channing) and a hospital worker (Judd) who names her children after desserts (Brownie, Praline, etc.). Tepidly directed by TV writer-producer Matt Williams (Roseanne), Heart dithers on and on to no great effect. The actors are all trying, but their efforts are as broad and flat as their accents. This is the sort of homespun nonsense ("Our lives can change with every breath we take," Novalee lectures) that belongs on a chocolate-sampler box rather than on a screen. (PG-13)

Bottom Line: Hokey Okies

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