The television roots of former sitcom series writer Matt Williams are showing in this comic tearjerker based on the book of the same name by Billie Letts. Where the Heart Is assays a variety of genres including domestic drama, disaster movie, music-business spoof, and trailer-trash satire before settling on romantic comedy, and the film is the poorer for it. While such a broad palette would have been intriguing in the pilot of an ongoing TV series, a feature requires more narrative focus than Williams' film provides. Perhaps if just one of these styles had clearly emerged as the front-runner, Where the Heart Is would have had the emotional impact of an award winner, with its themes of female empowerment resonating more richly. An intriguing if uneven performance is given by star Natalie Portman, who manages at times to convincingly portray a working-class, teenaged single mother with low self-esteem, truly no small feat for an actress renowned for her class and air of dignified grace. Wasted in supporting roles that don't amount to much are gifted actresses Sally Field, Ashley Judd, and Stockard Channing. Pleasantly diverting, Where the Heart Is nonetheless fails in its aspirations to be a down-home, chick-flick hit along the lines of Steel Magnolias (1989).
by Karl Williams review