Movie News

SHOWEST: Moriarty looks at WHERE THE HEART IS

Published at: March 9, 2000, 6:15 a.m. CST

Hello, Harry here. And before I hand you over to Moriarty, I want to give you a brief idea of what I thought of this film and why I haven't written a review. Moriarty and I were at the HARLEY DAVIDSON CAFE after the screening, and I was near tears at my disappointment and frustration about this film. You see.. first it is a movie shot in Austin, Texas. I have multiple friends that are in this movie. Before going in I had some very kind words with Tom Sherak and from his introduction and the very fact that they were highlighting this film over all others in their slate... I just felt that this had to be a perfect jewel. Instead, it's a diamond in the rough. In a perfect world, Fox would hold this film for November release. This film is so close to being a wonderful perfect film, that it's mistakes stand out like a gigantic sore thumb. And while Moriarty and I were talking about this... The cell phone rings... it's my father... my grandmother had just passed away. My great grandaunt wants me to handle the funeral arrangements and coordinate things and... suddenly my life is thrown into a weird damn spiral. From lapdances to death. The absurdity of this town was at no point more clear. So tonight, I've spent my time calling family members and arranging things. As for WHERE THE HEART IS... Mr Sherak, you have an almost film that could be fixed. Listen to what Moriarty has to say here. Don't rush this film. With the right campaign there could be Oscar nominations in the film's future... but it needs to be fixed. I implore you... if you care for this film... don't just dump it in April. Care for it. Work on it. It's frustratingly close.

Hey, everyone...

"Moriarty" here.

It's not often that the studios screen whole movies at ShoWest. True, last year Disney showed us TARZAN before having Phil Collins come out and play an entire concert, but from what I understand, it's usually only at ShoEast that they do major screenings. Why would a studio break tradition? Why would they decide to show an entire movie to the delegates that are here from around the world?

That's the question Tom Sherak addressed from the stage of the Le Theatre Des Arts tonight. Harry and I actually bumped into him in line outside the screening and he was very gracious, talking with us about the movie, shooting in Austin, and the convention in general. I think it's important for us to meet these guys, to show them who we are, and to open this sort of dialogue. It's important because it increases the chance of them understanding us and our process, and realizing we're not the bad guys. It's easy to hate someone you've never spoken to, but when you put a real human face to a name, it becomes far more complicated.

I know I have a very different opinion of Sherak tonight after watching how he handled himself. He was the very model of grace under pressure. He started the evening onstage answering the questions I posted above. He talked about the experience of seeing a film and realizing it wasn't what you expected it to be, but was in fact richer, better. He talked of feeling pride in something they'd created, and he spoke of wanting to share that special little gem with people to start word of mouth. Considering that's always been our philosophy at AICN, it was nice to hear it come out of someone like him. He brought up Matt Williams, the director of the film, to speak for a moment.

Williams, for those of you unfamiliar with his name, was a writer for THE COSBY SHOW, was the creator of HOME IMPROVEMENT, and was a primary creative force on ROSEANNE. This last endeavor was the one that created whatever expectations I had for the film tonight. When Williams was one of the key creative staff members on ROSEANNE, it was one of the most honest shows about American families on TV. They weren't rich, they didn't live in some impossible house, and they frequently didn't get what they wanted. He was responsible for helping find that honest heart to the show, and I was hoping he would bring that to this film, especially after both he and Sherak spoke about it in such proud, paternal tones.

When the film started, the picture was seriously out of frame, and it took a couple of minutes for someone to try and adjust it. When they did, something bizarre happened, and the soundtrack actually got out of sync as the film doubled back and we saw the same sequence twice. Finally, the lights came back up and Tom Sherak took the stage again. Here's where he really won me over. Some guys would have been screaming at the tech crew, freaking out, but not Sherak. Instead, he actually took the mic and started telling jokes to keep the audience entertained. He came across as this charming guy who really cared about the audience and their reaction to the movie. It was a hero move, and he handled it incredibly well. It was only about five minutes before they gave him the signal to start the film again, and they started it over, this time with no technical glitches at all.

After all that, I wish I could say that the buzz starts here. I wish I could say I loved the film. I don't, though, and it kills me. The film is loaded with good performances, and the screenplay by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel has moments of piercing truth. It's based on a novel by Billie Letts, and that might be part of what's wrong here. There's an episodic nature to the film, a rhythm that just doesn't work, and it kills any emotional momentum the film develops time and time again.

To discuss it, I sort of have to spoil things, so if you want to hit it fresh, let me just say that this might be rewarding for a totally undemanding viewer, for someone who just wants to go and get a few chuckles and enjoy a little slice of country life. If that's you, then ignore me. Just go see it and forget I said anything. If you have any real expectations for this based on the cast or the pedigree, though, then read on.

Novalee Nation (Natalie Portman) is a girl who's never had luck with people or with the number 5. Her mother abandoned her when she was 5, and someone once stabbed her badly enough to require 55 stitches. At the film's beginning, she's pregnant and hitting this road with her louse of a boyfriend, Willie Jack (Dylan Bruno). He quickly dumps her in a Wal-Mart in Oklahoma, though, and she finds herself living in it through a series of circumstances. She begins to meet people in her small town, including a local librarian named Forney Hull. I'd tell you the actor's name, but I'm not sure the IMDb has it right. Ray Prewitt just doesn't sound right. Anyway, when Novalee has her baby in the Wal-Mart, she becomes a bit of a celebrity. She meets a free-spirited nurse named Lexie (Ashley Judd) and a local eccentric named Sister Husband (Stockard Channing) who become her de facto family when her long-lost mother (Sally Field) turns up, steals Novalee's money, and vanishes again.

There's moments in this opening stretch that are really pretty great. Natalie Portman is luminescent here, a star of the highest magnitude. There's a fragile quality to her that disguises some startling strength, and she never lets you catch her acting. Same thing with the stunning Ms. Judd. Their scenes together are alive, funny and sweet, and it's some of the best stuff in the film.

It's once Novalee gets out of the hospital with her new daughter Americus that things begin to slip. Williams and his screenwriters made the decision to intercut Novalee's story with that of her absent boyfriend Willie Jack, and it's an epic miscalculation. Not only is Dylan Bruno a boring actor, he's playing a boring character. Every single time we cut to him, all we can think of is getting back to her. Even the presence of Joan Cusack in his storyline doesn't help, and when you can't make good use of Joan Cusack, a true comic goddess, there's something deadly wrong.

Time passes in the blink of an eye in this film. Characters die off camera so that we barely feel their passing. Bad luck seems to be heaped on the main characters for no other reason than to keep the movie moving. And even through all that, there are things worth seeing, moments worth sharing. This is the most frustrating kind of film, an almost, a might have been. With a little more control and a more focused screenplay, Williams could have ripped our hearts out. Instead, he proves that he doesn't know where the heart is. His aim is off, and it's a damn shame.

Stockard Channing, the guy who played Forney, Ashley Judd, and especially Portman all deserve special mention. Their work couldn't possibly be any better. If you want to just see them and you don't care about the context, then check the film out. If you're a fan of the novel, you may like the movie. Then again, based on the flow of the thing, it feels like there are giant chunks missing, so you just might hate it. Whatever the case, I don't think this is the sleeper hit Fox was hoping for. I just don't think it's strong enough, and I can't imagine I was alone in my disappointment this evening. As we all filed out of the theater, Fox gave us these beautiful limited edition lithographs from TITAN A.E. and copies of the WHERE THE HEART IS soundtrack. I felt bad as I walked away. When a studio lays themself out there like this, you want to see them pull it off. I don't think this film will ruin their year one way or another, especially since Harry and I saw another Fox summer movie recently in an adventure that we'll be telling you about in the next few days. Right now, I have to start packing up. Tomorrow's my last day in Vegas. Harry's bailing out before the Fox lunch so he can get to South By Southwest. Me, I've got X-MEN and CASTAWAY footage to report on. Until then...

"Moriarty"out.

Readers Talkback

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  • March 9, 2000, 6:48 a.m. CST

    Natalie, O Natalie!

    by SpoilerMan

    Anybody know is Natalie Portman is legal yet? I want her! She has a hot, sexy mouth almost equal to my other love, Angelina Jolie!

  • March 9, 2000, 7 a.m. CST

    2 bad

    by Amidala

    I will see it anyway because I'm a natalie fan, but it's sad when a movie with this kind of cast can't deliver

  • March 9, 2000, 9:19 a.m. CST

    Unfortunate

    by mrbeaks

    I had really high hopes for this film, but if both Harry *and* Moriarty are unimpressed, it doesn't bode well. I'll still see it if only to gaze upon Natalie. I'm also truly sorry for your loss, Harry.

  • March 9, 2000, 10:34 a.m. CST

    No, no, no...FIX IT! (And Harry, hang in there.)

    by All Thumbs

    As y'all know, I'm the Talk Backer most excited about this film and to hear it has so many mistakes is almost devistating (in a film sense). First...FIVES? What the hell?! In the novel it's sevens...sevens are lucky for some people, but not for Novalee Nation. It doesn't make sense to have it fives....Portman could play older, I swear it! Moriarty, the novel DOES intercut with the boyfriend's story and I don't know how they handle it here, but in the novel it's not too bad, but when I reread it, I usually skip over his story. In fact, I figured for the movie they would just leave him out. I don't care about spoilers for the movie since I read the book and I have this feeling BECAUSE I read the book I'll be twice as disappointed as you guys. Now I have to go back and reread it AGAIN and figure out what they probably did wrong. And you mention so many deaths...how many characters did they kill off? In the book the only main character I can think of is...well one to avoid spoilers. It's the kind of death they couldn't show on the screen, I'm sure.

  • March 9, 2000, 10:50 a.m. CST

    I'm sorry Harry...

    by agentcooper

    ...Hang in there, man.

  • March 9, 2000, 1:33 p.m. CST

    Sherak & Co. deserve this failure!

    by Lazarus Long

    I am a big fan of Natalie Portman, and I hope she is received well in this, but Fox deserves this shot in the gut. Nothing would make me happier than to see the studio's pet project fail miserably, which would only partially make up for their mishandling and abandonment of Fight Club. Did Fox even bother to take out industry ads for Oscar nominations for some of the technical brilliance of this film, let alone the creative individuals, like Edward Norton? Films that have divided critics have often come up with big award tallies, it just takes some studio support--remember The Thin Red Line? Terrible box office, lukewarm reviews (with some big accolades, like FC), and what, 7 nominations including Best Picture. Fuck Fox, in my book they're almost as bad as Warner Bros. Having said that I will try to sneak into this film to seek the work of some of my favorite actresses (Portman, Judd, Cusak, Field, Channing).

  • March 9, 2000, 1:55 p.m. CST

    SO SAYS DARTHEVIL SUCKS

    by DarthEvilSucks

    Hi, again. I had Ms. Portman while she was filming THE PROFESSIONAL. Boy, she was sweet. A little stuck-up now, though.

  • March 9, 2000, 3:41 p.m. CST

    Fix it! (and take care, Harry, Father Geek)

    by uh_Clem

    By all means. Reread the novel over a long weekend, whatever it takes to pull out or put away whatever's ailing it. Too good a cast and story to waste on an almost-ran. Harry, and Father Geek, especially if this was your mother, terribly sorry for your loss.

  • March 9, 2000, 6:58 p.m. CST

    Forney Hull?

    by Alys

    Could that be James Frain (Reindeer Games, Hilary & Jackie, Elizabeth) as Forney? I could swear I saw him in the trailer, but I don't know what character he plays, if it _was_ him. He's not listed anywhere (imdb, upcomingmovies.com, the official site) but I could swear that was him I saw...

  • March 9, 2000, 7:43 p.m. CST

    There's an official site?

    by All Thumbs

    When I go to Fox, all I get is a synopsis and a short cast list with the April release date.

  • ...Joan Cusack. Dear, sweet god, sure, I haven't seen her recently, but sheesh, she was a piece of the action. First Official Crush of Mine that I Didn't Know, mind you. Heard she recently got pregnant...first, I thought about how happy she must be, and what a wonderful occurrence that is...then I screamed SWEET FUCKING HOLY GOD, WHY OH WHY OH WHY OH JESUS FUCK WHY NOT ME? After a little consideration thereof, I decided who was really at fault here, so I howled "YOU FUCKING ASSHOLE, JOAN CUSACK'S HUSBAND! YOU DIRTY GODDAMN SON OF A BITCH, IF I CAN IN ANY WAY MAKE SURE SATAN RAPES YOU WITH A SPIKED DILDO EVERY DAY AFTER YOU DIE! DIE, YOU BASTARD, DIE!!! But yeah, Natalie Hersc...I mean, Portman, makes me happy that I know how to wear a yarmulkhe on my head. Otherwise, she might see my....excitement. (see, see how I did that? Head? Yarmulkhe? HEAD? JEWISHNESS?) Technically, I shouldn't tell you this, but I guess it won't matter, since you goyim are all gaga over her...she's the Super Secret Bond-esque Sex Weapon created by Our All-Powerful Zionist Hollywood Establishment of Agents and Cousin Morty's. Her perfect balance of Hebraic genes, having been distilled since time immemmorial, since first a Nubian took a whip to a pale, pasty, but most importantly, JEWISH back, are excellent for cloning, and the cloning program begins soon. Mwabwamwabwahahaha... While the beautiful and surprisingly petite clones, ummm, "distract" you goyim, we, using our street gangs of inbred mongoloid hispanics, blacks, and pretty much anybody who isn't white will break into your domiciles, leaving the delicate flower of your bulimic, sexually dissatisfied WASP wives open to our depredations, soon to discover the glories of circumcised dick. Between that, our hordes and hordes of gene-programmed Micronesian CHUDS, the AIDS snipers, the continued manipulation of minorities through Jesse Jackson, and the Anti-Defamation League, (natch) we don't even need all that other crazy shit like giant lasers and our pact with the forces of the undead, among other things. Just a petite Jewish girl, the wonders of DNA manipulation, and the initiative. And Scared White Folks, natch. Yay, I'm officially a cool Bond ssupervillain now. I laid out the whole plan, and it's much cooler than anything any Bond bad guy did, unless it was a Bond porno spoof. Those really take the cake. Alright, now I'm willing to lay odds on the resurgence of white supremacists on AICN boards, due solely to this post. I'm gonna say...a 70% increase. Why that much, you ask? Put simply, white folks really dig conspiracy theories, the idea that it's them against the world. It's a western culture thing, so I'm thinking a 20% increase would be undershooting. And racists, being socially repugnant in his country (unless they're me!) are doubly able to be duped. Yessssss....turn your attention to the tiny Jewish girl, Anglo-Saxon World. Turn your attention to this declaration, and worry your blonde little heads about the classes directly above and below you. Just invest wisely, keep watching television, and dream of better things. You were scared of the Japanese business savvy twenty years ago...you should have been worrying, bewaring even, the corruptive and insidious influence....of SEINFELD. Bwamwabwamwahahaha!

  • March 9, 2000, 8:54 p.m. CST

    Sex? Yes please!

    by danhelm

    Leave it to AICN to attract the raving sex-starved maniacs. I'm sure after reading this, Natalie Portman would be...um...flattered. Where's the high-minded feminist puritianism of Ms. Foster when you need it? But since I don't personally care, let the orgy of lust continue!!

  • March 9, 2000, 9:14 p.m. CST

    jeez-us

    by Everett Robert

    Now I'm not one to put the kibosh on some good old fashioned sex talk...but come on people, why is that whenever Natile Portman is mentioned the entire Talkback is filled with guys yelling about how they would like to fuck her...ok...we get it...we got it the first time around...who really cares to know about your lust...I don't....ALL THUMBS...I always appciate your comments...keep it up...just thought I'd throw that out...BTW the traile for this looked good simply becasue I love all the actress in this movie...is the book any good...I'll tell you I just read LA CONFIDENTIAL (didn't much care for it...I thought the movie did a better job) AMERICAN PYSCHO (can't comment on the movie...but curious as to how it worked out...the book disturbed me though...however i do want to read more Bret Easton Ellis now) SHOELESS JOE (which Field of Dreams was made out of...love both the movie in the book) and CIDER HOUSE RULES (haven't seen the movie but curious as to how it turned out too...espically considering the Oscar nods it got)...anyway if anyone could fill me in on if th ebook is worth a read or not...buzz me...or write away here...flame on--Everett R.

  • March 9, 2000, 10:35 p.m. CST

    Where Da Nat At?

    by rjtapper

    As indisputably the biggest Natalie fan of all, I must regrettably admit that this film looks like a potential crusher.Granted, simply starring Nat in a lead role assures it'll be great, but the trailer wasn't too impressive.The jokes weren't very good, and I can't stand Stockard Channing & Sally Field.I know Anywhere But Here had mixed reactions(I loved all of it myself), but that wasn't trying to be a quirky dramedy like this appears to be.It'll damn sure be better than Mars Attacks. Love the poster

  • March 10, 2000, 12:22 a.m. CST

    Yes, the book is worth reading.

    by Cereal Killer

    I read it twice and then convinced my sister and my niece to read it and we all loved it. I thought then that it would make a good movie for Claire Danes since Natalie wasn't really old enough then. When I heard that Nat had been cast though, I thought she'd be perfect. It's too bad Moriarty and Harry were disappointed but I still hold out hope that it'll be good. This is my most-anticipated film of the year and I really want it to be a masterpiece. I was disappointed in "Anywhere But Here" and if "Where the Heart Is" turns out to be a loser then that'll make three movies in a row for Natalie that didn't live up to my expectations (third film being "Phantom Menace"). As for the stuff about the film cutting back and forth between Novalee's story and Willie Jack's, that's the way it was done in the book and I'm glad they didn't cut that part out (I was afraid they would). Regardless of what Harry or Moriarty say about "Where the Heart Is" I'm gonna be there opening day. If there really are any problems with this film I hope they'll take the time to fix them. I'll be heartbroken if this one doesn't live up to my expectations.

  • March 10, 2000, 12:29 a.m. CST

    Naughty Sauce

    by Everett Robert

    thanks for the suggestion...I'll be reading here before too much longer

  • March 10, 2000, 1:04 a.m. CST

    I DO like Stockard Channing...

    by All Thumbs

    But isn't she a little to YOUNG for the part? I mean, the best part about Sister Husband was that she was described (in looks and manner first off) as one of those old crotchety church ladies who happens to be a bit senile. So they gave Stockard Channing gray hair, big deal!

  • March 11, 2000, 5:04 p.m. CST

    Having a little respect for Natalie Portman

    by Ghosts

    Ok, let me make it clear to you sick fucks out there that lovely Natalie Portman is not a slut and would never EVER participate in sexual Relations with you disrespectful arrogant people who call yourself 'Men'. She seems like a clever & sophisticated lady who knows what she wants. She does not need Rude people filling these pages full of what they dream they could do to her. Us men should be gentlemen & not talk about women this way, especially a lady as pretty & bright as Natalie Portman. In Short? All you perverted sicko's disrespecting the only bright thing in our world(lady's) GET A LIFE!!! (Nyrone) 16

  • March 11, 2000, 11:56 p.m. CST

    Nat Portman and the stupid guy above

    by Calmante

    Ummm... I always love it when some love sick moron "sticks up" for his favorite actress. (All the while slathering up his johnson with baby oil fantasizing about her) I'm sorry, it just sounds so contrived... Give it up, man; she's not going to magically appear, telling you 'to ravish me, please, because you were so kind to call me a lady!' Yes sir, I want to shag her rotten, and I'm not afraid to admit it.