Where the Heart Is (2000) - Plot Summary - IMDb
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  • A pregnant seventeen-year-old rebuilds her life after being abandoned by her boyfriend at a Walmart in Sequoyah, Oklahoma.

  • Novalee Nation (Natalie Portman) is a pregnant seventeen-year-old from Tennessee heading to California with her boyfriend Willie Jack Pickens (Dylan Bruno), but is abandoned by him at a Walmart in Sequoyah, Oklahoma. Novalee has no job, no skills, and only five dollars and fifty-five cents in her pocket, so she secretly lives in the Walmart until her daughter Americus (Mackenzie Fitzgerald) is born six weeks later. Novalee decides to raise her daughter and rebuild her life in Sequoyah, Oklahoma, with the help of eccentric but kind strangers. Based on the best-selling novel by Billie Letts.

  • Having lived her entire life in a trailer, Novalee Nation (Natalie Portman) is a pregnant, superstitious, and uneducated seventeen-year-old. With the exception of her boyfriend and the unborn baby's father Willie Jack Pickens (Dylan Bruno), she is all alone in the world with very little money of her own. On the drive from their current home in Tennessee to Bakersfield, California, where they are planning on moving, Willie Jack abandons Novalee in the small town of Sequoyah, Oklahoma. With no food and very little money, Novalee ends up secretly living in the town's Walmart. As her stay in Sequoyah is extended, Novalee is befriended and ultimately assisted by a variety of townsfolk, including a recovering alcoholic named Sister Husband (Stockard Channing), single mother and nurse Lexi Coop (Ashley Judd), who names her children after snack foods, Walmart's contract photographer named Moses Whitecotten (Keith David), and the temporary librarian named Forney Hull (James Frain), an academically brilliant man originally from New England. As much as they help Novalee, she in turn has a profound affect on them as each is dealing with an issue which stops them from having a truly fulfilled life. Forney ends up falling in love with Novalee, who feels she has to make a decision of how she can best help him. She is assisted in this decision by an unlikely source.

  • Novalee Nation (Natalie Portman), a pregnant teen, goes on the road with her dreamer boyfriend, Willie Jack Pickens (Dylan Bruno), who abandons her in a Walmart in Sequoyah, Oklahoma. Left alone with virtually no money, she hides out in the store for six weeks until her baby, Americus (Mackenzie Fitzgerald), is born. After the birth, she gets national recognition as giving birth to the "Walmart baby". She makes friends with two local women (the religious, but promiscious Sister Husband (Stockard Channing) and Lexi Coop (Ashley Judd), a woman with a pile of kids, who also seems to have considerable man problems until she marries the local exterminator). She also becomes friends with Walmart photographer Moses Whitecotten (Keith David), who leads her to a career, and with a young man, Forney Hull (James Frain), who runs the library and takes care of his alcoholic sister, who is the real librarian.

  • Novalee Nation (Natalie Portman), seventeen-years-old and very pregnant, has never been part of a real home. The closest thing to family for the hard-luck teen is her selfish, would-be musician boyfriend, Willie Jack Pickens (Dylan Bruno), with whom she's travelling from Tennessee to California in a rust bucket of a Plymouth. A bathroom stop en route, at a Sequoyah, Oklahoma Walmart, changes Novalee's life forever. For when she leaves the store, she discovers that Willie Jack and the Plymouth are gone. Only her Polaroid camera remains in the parking space. Alone and broke, Novalee surreptitiously moves into the vast store, taking food and supplies from its shelves. When she gives birth on the floor - and her hideaway is revealed - Novalee and her "Walmart baby" become instant celebrities. More importantly, over the next few years, Novalee finally becomes part of an unconventional, makeshift family comprised of her wonderfully eccentric new friends. Now, with the family she always wanted, Novalee is transformed from a homeless teen to a successful and strong woman. She has finally found a home in this small town where fate has dropped her.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • Seventeen-year-old, seven-months-pregnant Novalee Nation (Natalie Portman) sets off on a road trip from Tennessee to California with her ignorant, ne'er-do-well boyfriend, Willy Jack Pickens (Dylan Bruno). In Sequoyah, Oklahoma, Novalee asks Willy to stop at a Wal-Mart so that she can use the bathroom and replace her shoes, which had fallen out the bottom of their beat-up car. When Novalee reaches out for her change at the checkout, the sum of $5.55 sends her into a panic, as she believes that the number 5 is a bad omen, as when she was 5, her mother left her for a baseball umpire; and when she was waitressing, a customer went berzerk and cut her arm from wrist to elbow, and it took 55 stitches to close the wound. She runs outside to discover that Willy has taken off without her.

    For the rest of the afternoon, Novalee browses Wal-Mart, where she meets Sister Husband (Stockard Channing), who runs the Welcome Wagon in town. Sister Husband mistakenly believes Novalee to be her long-lost relative Ruth Ann, and she gives her a buckeye tree and a welcome basket. Novalee also meets photographer Moses Whitecotton (Keith David) who later becomes her mentor. That evening, Novalee feels unwell and runs into the bathroom to vomit. When she comes out again, she discovers that the store is closed, locked, and dark. She soon figures out how to live undetected in the Wal-Mart.

    Novalee visits the town library and meets Forney Hull (James Frain), who works there while caring for his sister "the librarian", an alcoholic. Novalee learns from Sister Husband that Forney was attending Bowdoin College in Maine, where he was studying to be a history teacher before he had to leave school to care for his sister. Novalee goes to Sister Husband's house and explains that she is not Ruth Ann. Nonetheless, Sister Husband invites her in for cornbread and buttermilk, and Novalee plants the buckeye tree in Sister's yard.

    Back in the Wal-Mart, Novalee wakes up during a thunderstorm when she starts feeling pain in her abdomen. Her water breaks, and while attempting to mop it up, she goes into labor. As she collapses, she notices that she is in Aisle 5, so she makes a big effort to move to the next aisle. At this moment, Forney (who saw her go into the store at closing time) jumps through a plate-glass window and helps deliver her baby.

    The next morning, Novalee wakes up in the hospital, where she learns she has become a minor celebrity for giving birth in a Wal-Mart. After being asked by her nurse, Lexie Coop (Ashley Judd) what she will name her baby, Novalee replies Americus, following Moses's advice to name her a strong name. Novalee gets to know Lexie, who reveals that she has had four children by three different men, all named after snacks: Brownie, Praline, Cherry, and Baby Ruth. While in the hospital, Novalee gets a visit from her mother (Sally Field), whom she has not seen since she was a child. Her mother asks if she has a place to live. Novalee says no, and her mother says that pooling their cash, they can get an apartment together. She hands over all her money, $500, to her mother, who promises to pick her and Americus up at 9:00 a.m. the next day. At 12:15 p.m. Novalee is still waiting, and realizes that her mother took her money, leaving her destitute and homeless. Just then, Sister Husband comes by and invites Novalee and the baby to live at her house, as "she does not know how to take care of the buckeye tree".

    Meanwhile Willy Jack is in prison but trying to make it as a country singer, after being arrested for dating a young teenager who robbed a 7-11, and hired by music agent Ruth Meyers (Joan Cusack).

    Back at Sister Husband's house, an evangelical couple from Midnight, Mississippi come to "show the Wal-Mart Baby the word of God", but Sister Husband slams the door on them. Novalee and Forney are getting Christmas trees when Forney recalls that Americus is five months old, sending Novalee into a panic about her unlucky number and racing home to find out that Americus has been kidnapped. Sister Husband tells a police officer about the church folks that came to her house from Midnight, Mississippi. Novalee recalls that while in the hospital, she was reading cards that people sent her, and that one from Midnight, Mississippi said her baby was an abomination to the Lord. They follow the police cars to the outside of a church, where they find Americus in Baby Jesus's manger.

    Five years later, Novalee has begun a career as a photographer with the help of Moses Whitecotton. One day a tornado blows through the town. Novalee and Americus hide in an underground shelter, but Sister is out running an errand and does not make it back in time. Sister Husband is killed and their home is destroyed. After the funeral, one of Sister Husband's friends informs Novalee that she is the beneficiary of Sister's estate, worth around $41,000, which Novalee uses to build a new home for herself and Americus on Sister's land.

    One day, Novalee receives a call from Brownie, Lexie's eldest child. Novalee cannot hear what he is saying, but eventually perceives that something bad has happened. She goes over to Lexie's house, where she finds Lexie, Brownie, and Praline covered in blood and bruised. Novalee invites Lexie and her now five children to live with her and Americus in their new house. Lexie tells Novalee that her new boyfriend had tried to molest her two oldest children, Brownie and Praline, when Praline threw up on him, whereupon Lexie returned home from work early and caught him before he got to Brownie. Lexie attacked him, hitting him twice before he knocked her out. Lexie is at first devastated, but as time passes she and her children begin to heal, and she eventually marries the ordinary yet reliable Ernie the Exterminator and has another child.

    When Forney's sister passes away due to alcoholism and he does not show up at the funeral, Novalee finds him in a hotel and comforts him. They end up sleeping together, after which he tells her that he loves her; she doesn't reply. Forney returns to Maine to bury his sister, and the townspeople remark on how he can finally leave town and have a life. When he comes back, he talks about visiting Bowdoin, and Novalee realizes that he can now finish his education. Forney tells Novalee he loves her and wants to stay with her, but Novalee lies, saying she does not love him, and he leaves.

    On Americus's 5th birthday, Novalee is paranoid about her party because of unlucky five: When Americus was five days old, she had jaundice; at five weeks old, she had an ear infection; at five months old, she was kidnapped).

    Meanwhile, Novalee picks up a newspaper and reads about a double amputee being robbed of his wheelchair. The amputee proves to be Willy Jack, who lost his legs when he got drunk after being sued for copyright infringement for his hit song. While drunk, he kept hearing Novalee's voice talking about Americus; then he tripped on train tracks and was hit by an oncoming train. During his singing career, he just missed running into Novalee when he entered an elevator with his agent just moments after Novalee exited the other elevator on her way to accepting an award for a photograph.

    Novalee visits Willy in the hospital and tells him about her life. He admits that he lied to her when he told her that he didn't feel the baby's heart beat the day he left her. He says he wishes he could go back and undo the lie, because a single lie can change your whole life. He explains that people lie because they're "scared, crazy, or just mean". Novalee realizes that she made a similar mistake lying to Forney. She drives Willy Jack home to Tennessee and then continues on to Maine to find Forney. Novalee admits to him that she lied and that she really loves him, and they return to Oklahoma to get married in a Wal-Mart.

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