Where the Heart Is (2000 film)

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Where The Heart Is
Where the heart is poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byMatt Williams
Produced bySusan Cartsonis
David McFadzean
Patricia Whitcher
Matt Williams
Screenplay byLowell Ganz
Babaloo Mandel
Based onWhere the Heart Is
by Billie Letts
Music byMason Daring
CinematographyRichard Greatrex
Edited byBrooke Wilson
Wind Dancer Films
Distributed by20th Century Fox
Release date
  • April 28, 2000 (2000-04-28)
Running time
120 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$15 million
Box office$40 million

Where the Heart Is is a 2000 American romantic drama film directed by Matt Williams and starring Natalie Portman, Stockard Channing, Ashley Judd, and Joan Cusack with supporting roles done by James Frain, Dylan Bruno, Keith David, and Sally Field. The screenplay, written by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, is based on the best-selling 1995 novel of the same name by Billie Letts. The film follows five years in the life of Novalee Nation, a pregnant 17-year-old, who is abandoned by her boyfriend at a Walmart in a small Oklahoma town. She secretly moves into the store, where she eventually gives birth to her baby, which attracts media attention. With the help of friends, she makes a new life for herself in the town.


17-year-old and seven-months-pregnant Novalee Nation (Natalie Portman) and her boyfriend Willy Jack Pickens (Dylan Bruno) are moving from Tennessee to California. Willy Jack abandons Novalee at the local Walmart in Sequoyah, Oklahoma when she uses the restroom and buys new shoes. There, she meets Thelma "Sister" Husband (Stockard Channing) who presents her with a buckeye tree, and Moses Whitecotton (Keith David), a local photographer who advises her to give her baby a strong name. A sickly and homeless Novalee is forced to live in the Walmart, undetected. Novalee also becomes acquainted with surly librarian Forney Hull (James Frain) who cares for his alcoholic sister Mary Elizabeth (Margaret Hoard).

During a thunderstorm, Novalee, alone at Walmart, goes into labor. Forney, who has followed Novalee to the Walmart, smashes through the Walmart window to help deliver her child, whom she names Americus. Novalee instantly becomes a media darling, and while in hospital, is befriended by Nurse Lexie Coop (Ashley Judd). Her estranged mother, Mama Lil (Sally Field), visits after seeing her daughter on television, but disappears with the money donated by well-wishers. Sister Husband arrives and offers to take in Novalee and Americus.

While Christmas tree shopping with Forney, Novalee is reminded that it is Americus' five-month birthday. Realizing this, Novalee races to Sister's house to find that Americus has been kidnapped. A couple (Mark Vogues and Angie Hughes) from Mississippi, who had previously written an ugly letter to Novalee saying that Americus was an abomination because she was born out of wedlock, kidnapped Americus and left her at the church in the nativity scene.

Three years pass and Novalee, with Moses' help, learns to be a photographer. After a spell in prison and traveling to Nashville, Willy Jack becomes a one-hit-wonder after a slow start with "Beat of a Heart," a song he wrote in jail. He teams with cranky music agent Ruth Meyers (Joan Cusack), who gives him a makeover and the stage name "Billy Shadow."

When a tornado blows through Sequoyah, Sister Husband is killed. In her memory, Novalee shoots a picture of Americus and the still-standing buckeye tree amidst the damage from the storm. After the funeral, Novalee finds out that she is the beneficiary of Sister's estate, totaling around $41,000. Novalee builds a new home for herself and Americus on Sister's land.

Novalee arrives in Las Vegas to accept an award for a photo contest she has won, narrowly missing Willy Jack, who happens to be in the same hotel. Ruth later breaks into his hotel room to inform Willy Jack that his old cellmate Tommy Reynolds is suing him, claiming that he, not Willy, wrote "Beat of a Heart". Ruth drops him as a client.

Upon her return to Sequoyah, Novalee discovers Lexie has been attacked by a new love interest who molested her two eldest children, nearly beating her to death as she attempted to protect them. Lexie's injuries hinder her nursing job, and she and her children have to move in with Novalee and Americus. Lexie breaks down, feeling guilty and angry, tearfully regretting her choice in men.

Forney's sister, Mary Elizabeth, later passes away. When Forney does not appear at the funeral, Novalee finds him in a hotel and comforts him. They act on the feelings they have denied for so long and spend the night together. Forney confesses his love for her, but Novalee confides in Lexie she has never considered herself good enough for Forney and is confused about her feelings for him. Her continued feelings of unworthiness become overwhelming when he says that he intends to stay with her rather than resume his studies at Bowdoin College in Maine. Believing his life would be a dead end with her in Sequoyah, Novalee struggles to lie to Forney saying she does not love him. Heartbroken and rejected by Novalee, Forney returns to college in Maine.

Novalee learns that Lexie is seeing Ernie (Bob Coonrod), an exterminator who does not possess the physical attributes that have in the past attracted her interest, but she falls in love with him after learning he gave his ex-wife his restored 1967 Chevy Camaro in exchange for custody of his stepdaughter, whom he adopted as his own. The couple marry, and Lexie tells Novalee that she's pregnant.

Severely depressed at his ruined career following the lawsuit, Willy Jack becomes a depressed alcoholic while driving with a woman across country. He wanders off drunk and collapses on a railroad track where he is unable to move as a train approaches.

On Americus's 5th birthday, Novalee picks up a newspaper and sees an article about Willy Jack having lost his legs some months before and recently being robbed of his wheelchair. Novalee visits Willy Jack in the hospital and he confesses his whole life would've been different if he hadn't left her. She sees how Willy Jack is a changed man and is able to finally forgive and let go of him, but she warns him never to contact Americus.

After driving Willy Jack home in Tennessee upon his release, Novalee realizes now her lies are similar mistakes with Forney. She continues to Maine to find Forney at Bowdoin. Novalee tells him she really does love him and they return to Oklahoma and marry.

The final scene is of their wedding, which takes place in a Walmart.


  • Natalie Portman as Novalee Nation, a pregnant girl who gets stranded in Sequoyah.
  • Ashley Judd as Lexie Coop, a nurse who lives in Sequoyah.
  • Stockard Channing as Thelma "Sister" Husband, a promiscuous religious woman in Sequoyah. who is the first to befriend Novalee.
  • Joan Cusack as Ruth Meyers, a cranky music agent.
  • James Frain as Forney Hull, a librarian in Sequoyah who becomes Novalee's love interest.
  • Dylan Bruno as Willy Jack Pickens, Novalee's ex-boyfriend.
  • Keith David as Moses Whitecotton, a photographer in Sequoyah who persuades Novalee to give her baby a strong name. He also trains Novalee in photography.
  • Richard Andrew Jones as Mr. Sprock, a companion of Thelma.
  • Sally Field as Mama Lil, the estranged mother of Novalee.
  • Laura House as Nicki, one of Novalee's friends from Tennessee.
  • Karey Green as Rhonda, one of Novalee's friends from Tennessee.
  • Mark Vogues as Religious man, a man from Midnight, Mississippi who abducts baby Americus.
  • Angee Hughes as Religious woman, a woman from Midnight, Mississippi who abducts baby Americus.
  • Margaret Hoard as Mary Elizabeth Hull, the sick sister of Forney.
  • Mackenzie Fitzgerald as Americus Nation, the daughter of Novalee.
  • Alicia Godwin as Jolene, a 14-year-old girl who ropes Willy Jack into assisting in her recent heist.
  • Dennis Letts as Sheriff, an unnamed sheriff who arrests Willy Jack for being involved in Jolene's heist.
  • Rodger Boyce as Officer Harry
  • David Alvarado as Cellmate, an unnamed cellmate of Willy Jack during his time in prison.
  • Richard Nance as Johnny DeSotto, a known music agent who meets Willy Jack.
  • Bob Coonrod as Ernie, an exterminator that becomes Lexie's latest love interest.
  • Cody Linley as Brownie Coop, one of Lexie's children.
    • Adrian and Michael Garza as Young Brownie Coop (uncredited)
  • Camryn Callaway as Baby Ruth Coop, one of Lexie's children.
    • Jessica Hinderliter as Young Baby Ruth Coop
  • Shelby Callaway as Cherry Coop, one of Lexie's children.
    • Sarah Hinderliter as Young Cherry Coop
  • Kaylie Harmony as Praline Coop
  • Heather Kafka as Delphia

Jim Beaver had a part in the film as Clawhammer, but his scene was deleted.

Differences between novel and film[edit]

  • Novalee finds the number 5 unlucky in the movie, and the number 7 unlucky in the novel.
  • Sister Husband has brown hair in the movie and blue hair in the novel.
  • In the novel, Benny Goodluck gives Novalee a buckeye tree for good luck. In the film, Benny is omitted and the buckeye tree was given to Novalee by Sister Husband.
  • In the novel, Jolene is the daughter of a dive bar owner and shifted the blame of her convenience store robbery on him to the police that pulls them over. In the film, Jolene's parents aren't mentioned.
  • In the novel, Lexie is obese. She is constantly trying new fad diets and weight loss schemes. This aspect of her character is removed from the film version.
  • In the novel, Walmart's owner Sam Walton gives Novalee a check while offering her a job at Walmart. Sam Walton's appearance was omitted in the film.
  • In the novel, Willy Jack has a heart attack after being struck in the chest. In the film, he just gets into a fight with his cellmate.
  • In the novel, Willy Jack gets his guitar from the prison librarian Claire Hudson which used to belong to her late son Finny. In the film, it was mentioned that Willy Jack's later cellmate Tommy Reynolds gave him his guitar.
  • In the novel, Sister Husband died from her injuries after being trapped in a trailer while visiting a neighbor. Her death is not shown in the film.
  • In the novel, Moses has a wife named Certain whom Novalee also becomes close with when she and Americus move in with her following Sister Husband's death. She is entirely omitted from the film.
  • In the novel, Ruth Meyers ends Willy Jack's career for going behind her back. In the film, she also ends his career when she gets a call from Tommy Reynolds' lawyer who is suing Jack for taking the song "Beat of a Heart" from him.
  • In the novel, Mary Elizabeth Hull dies in the fire at her library. In the film, she succumbs to the complications of her alcoholism.
  • In the novel, Lexie marries her co-worker Leon Yoder. In the film, Lexie marries Ernie the exterminator.
  • In the novel, Forney instead travels for some time before settling in Chicago. In the film, Forney returns to school.
  • In the novel, Willy Jack makes it to California where he fails to get money from his cousin in Bakersfield, tries to pawn his guitar for money which falls through, and ditches his current girlfriend where it lead to his train accident. In the film, the girlfriend goes into a restaurant to eat which led to Willy Jack's train accident.
  • Novalee's marriage to Forney only occurs in the film.


Original music for the film was produced by Mason Daring. A soundtrack of the original music was released by RCA Records, as well as a music compilation soundtrack featuring songs used in the film by artists such as Emmylou Harris, Lyle Lovett, Martina McBride, and John Hiatt.

The song "That's the Beat of a Heart" was performed by The Warren Brothers and Sara Evans. A music video was made for the song, which is included as a bonus extra on the DVD release, and features a number of scenes from the film.


Critical response[edit]

The film received mostly negative reviews. Metacritic gives it a score of 30% based on reviews from 28 critics.[1] Rotten Tomatoes gives it a 35% approval rating, based on reviews from 97 critics, with the sites consensus stating that the film's "poor script and messy plot undermines the decent cast."[2]

Box office[edit]

The film opened in theaters in the United States on April 28, 2000. Where the Heart Is accumulated (USD)$8,292,939 in its opening weekend, opening at number 4.

The film went on to make $33,772,838 at the North American box office, and an additional $7,090,880 internationally for a worldwide total of $40,863,718.[3]


  1. ^ Metacritic (Where The Heart Is)
  2. ^ Rotten Tomatoes (Where The Heart Is)
  3. ^ "Where the Heart Is". boxofficemojo.com. Retrieved April 15, 2006.

External links[edit]