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Film / Where the Heart Is

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Where the Heart Is is a drama-comedy released in 2000, based on a novel by Billie Letts. The story is about a pregnant young girl named Novalee Nation (Natalie Portman), who is abandoned in the parking lot of a Walmart by her boyfriend. She eventually is taken in by a nearby family, gives birth to a daughter she names Americus, and falls in love with the town librarian.

No relation to the 1990 John Boorman film.

Tropes found in this film include:

  • Absurd Phobia: Novalee believes that the number 5 is cursed. In the book, it's actually the number 7 that she feels is cursed but the number likely changed due to time constraints in the film.
    • The background on this is that her mother left when she was 5 years old, and then it took 55 stitches to close a massive wound in her arm when a woman attacked her with a steak knife.
    • She panics when Willy Jack mentions that their trip is starting at 5pm.
    • At the Sequoyah Walmart, she throws her change back at a cashier when it comes out to $5.55
    • She drags herself, while in labor, to a different aisle so she won't give birth in Aisle 5.
    • At Americus's fifth birthday party:
    Lexie: I'm ready for candles.
    Novalee: No candles.
    Lexie: Why? It's her birthday.
    Novalee: Five days old, she got the jaundice. Five weeks old, she got an ear infection. Five months old, she was kidnapped. Five years old? I'm not lightin' any fires, thank you.
  • Adaptational Attractiveness: Novalee is described on the first page of the novel as "seventeen years old, seven months pregnant, and thirty-seven pounds overweight," and Lexie is described as morbidly obese; naturally the film has them played by Natalie Portman and Ashley Judd.
  • Aerith and Bob: A non-fantasy example, but a wild mix. It is rural Oklahoma, after all.
    • Aeriths:
      • Novalee Nation
      • Americus Nation
      • Forney Hull
      • Mr. Sprock
      • Moses and Certain Whitecotton
      • Willy Jack Pickens (aka Billy Shadow)
      • All of Lexie's named kids (Brownie, Praline, Cherry, and Baby Ruth), though it's hinted that they're actually nicknames
    • Bobs:
      • Lexie Coop
      • Thelma "Sister" Husband
      • Ruth Meyers
  • Alliterative Name: Novalee Nation.
  • An Arm and a Leg: Willy Jack loses both legs after being run over by a train.
  • Book Dumb: Novalee, to Forney's mild annoyance when they first meet.
  • Book Ends: The book begins and ends with Novalee and Willy Jack taking a road trip, the beginning being them trying to make a home in California and the end having Novalee taking Willy Jack back home to Tennessee since she's made herself a home in Oklahoma and he has no way to get back due to having no legs.
  • Born During a Storm: Novalee goes into labor alone in the Walmart she has been living in during a thunderstorm. The setting of the birth emphasizes her dire life situation. Good thing Forney arrives to assist with the birth.
  • Break His Heart to Save Him: Novalee to Forney.
  • Brick Joke: Sister at one point leads a prayer asking God to forgive her and Mr. Sprock for committing "fornication" on the kitchen table. After Sister's will reveals she left everything to Novalee, Mr. Sprock asks for the table, saying it holds a lot of memories.
  • The Cameo: Sally Field has about two minutes of screen time playing Novalee's mother, who shows up in her hospital room, robs her of the money well-wishers have sent her, and then abandons her again.
  • Camera Fiend: Novalee eventually makes a career out of her photography skills.
  • Catching Some Z's: Novalee is a very loud snorer.
  • Disappeared Dad: Americus's father abandons her mother in the parking lot at Walmart before she is born. While he continues to appear in the movie as a subplot, he never meets his daughter.
  • Do Not Touch the Funnel Cloud: Averted. The tornado is nowhere near the storm cellar that Novalee, Lexie, and Americus are sheltering in, but Novalee still gets nearly blown away by the wind.
  • Dynamic Entry: Forney leaps through a plate glass window in the Walmart when he sees Novalee in labor.
  • Embarrassing Nickname: Novalee is dubbed "the Walmart Mommy" by the media after they catch wind of her giving birth in a Walmart. Fortunately, the incident (and epithet) have been dropped by the time Americus is four.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": Ernie's last name is never given, and everyone just calls him "Ernie the Exterminator".
  • Feeling the Baby Kick: Played with- Novalee puts Willy Jack's hand on her bump so he can feel her baby's heartbeat.
    Novalee: Feel that little bomp-bomp-bomp? It's where the heart is.
  • Friend to All Children: Forney is particularly great with Americus.
    • Ernie the Exterminator coaches a kids' baseball team and has adopted his stepchild from his deadbeat ex-wife.
  • Gilligan Cut:
    • While discussing her latest boyfriend with Novalee, Lexie says, "I just don’t think he’s my type." Cut to them getting married.
    • Novalee meets a cute mechanic at Murray's Garage and the music swells like a typical country-style Meet Cute. Cut to her telling Lexie she might be pregnant.
    • Willy's groupie saying "I will leave when I am good and ready!" to Ruth Meyers. Cut to her being thrown bodily from the room.
  • Good Stepmother: Ernie is a gender-flipped version not only for Lexie's kids but for his own stepdaughter for whom he gave up the car of his dreams since his ex-wife loved the car more than she loved her daughter.
  • Human-Interest Story: news of Novalee having been a homeless teen who gave birth in a Walmart becomes a viral news-story in-universe.
  • Ill Girl: Forney's sister is the nominal librarian in town, but she's bedridden and cared for by her brother. she eventually dies, and Forney decides to leave.
  • I Want My Beloved to Be Happy: Played straight with Forney and Novalee. She lies and tells him that she doesn't love him so he'll go and live the life she thinks he wants back east. She does come to her senses later and goes back and tells him the truth.
  • Implied Rape: After Novalee picks up Lexie and her kids and brings them to her house, she sits down with Lexie to ask what happened. Lexie breaks down in tears, saying her new boyfriend Roger tried going after her kids while she wasn't home, but by pure luck, Lexie had come home early with her younger kids. Roger went after Praline first but opted for Brownie instead after Praline threw up on him. She never says the word "rape", but it's heavily implied that Roger was sexually assaulting her child in her bedroom when she found them after coming home. It's so hard to not feel for Lexie and what had happened to her and her kids.
    How did he find me, Novalee? How do men like that find my kids? How'd he know he could do such a thing to us? He had to be looking. He was looking for women like me, who are alone with children, and women who are stupid.
  • Insecure Love Interest: Novalee believes she isn't good enough for Forney and doesn't want to tie him down to a life where he is unhappy.
  • Intergenerational Friendship: Novalee's friendships with Sister Husband and the Whitecottons who are old enough to be her parents. Americus even refers to Sister as Grandma Sister and Moses and Certain as Pepaw and Memaw respectively.
  • Karma Houdini: Novalee's mother, who abandoned her when she was five for an umpire, gets away with stealing all the money Novalee received from the well-wishers with no consequences. The same goes for the man who molested Lexie's oldest children since he used a fake name.
  • Kick the Dog: Willy Jack abandoning Novalee at Walmart in an unknown town. In a double whammy, pretty much everything that happens to him after that is him getting a Kick the Dog moment.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Although there are some ups and downs, overall life turns out well for Novalee, who is able to make a home for herself with the help and support of caring friends. Meanwhile, things go increasingly badly for Willy Jack after he leaves Novalee behind: he spends time in prison, has his chance at a music career tanked when he's accused of stealing the song he wrote, and ends up losing both legs in a train accident after passing out drunk on the railroad tracks.
  • Law of Inverse Fertility: Both played straight and averted with Novalee, as she didn't exactly plan to get pregnant at 17 to a guy who would abandon her in the middle of nowhere, but a later fling does not result in a pregnancy for her. Played straight with Lexie, as has 4 kids by 3 different deadbeat daddies at the start of the movie. And it gets worse as the movie goes on.
    Well, I started when I was 15 and I just couldn't stop. I wanted to find the first one a daddy, but all I got out of that was another baby. So, I wanted to find 'em both a daddy, and so on, and so on. I think I'm goin' about this the wrong way.
  • Mama Bear: When Lexie found Roger sexually assaulting her children, she said she "flew at him" in rage, with every attempt at killing him to defend them or die trying.
  • Meaningful Name: How Novalee ends up picking "Americus" as her daughter's name. She initially tells Moses that she's thinking about "Wendi, with an i," only for Moses to emphatically advise her to give her baby a name that means something.
  • Media Scrum: While Novalee is in the hospital recovering from labor and delivery, the hallway outside the hospital room is crowded with journalists wanting to meet the "Walmart Mom".
  • The Missionary: An essentially well-meaning Pentecostal Christian couple see Novalee's & Americus's story on TV and travel to Oklahoma to witness (preach) to Novalee. Sister, being a devout (and much less judgmental) Christian herself, not to mention knowing that Novalee is tired of the media attention, makes it clear she's already covered this.
    Religious Man: Ma'am, we've come here today to give the Word of God to the Walmart baby, and to her young unmarried mother.
    Religious Woman: We drove all the way up from Midnight, Mississippi.
    Sister Husband: Well, you folks could have saved yourselves a trip, because the Word of God has been in this house for a very long time. '['shuts door in their faces]''
  • Nice Guy: Forney's first appearance has him belittling Novalee, and his second appearance has what could be considered stalking. However, the rest of the film shows him as a genuinely nice person who loves and supports Novalee and Americus. His behaviour at the beginning was likely him having an extra-stressful day and just simple curiosity.
  • Non-Residential Residence: Novalee lives in a Walmart for some time after being left there by her boyfriend, and even delivers her baby there.
  • Oh, Crap!:
    • The pair of flip-flops costs $5.55- so Novalee panics and runs out to the parking lot.
    • Willy Jack when he's told that the hitchhiker he's driving with is only 14 years old. He's then promptly arrested.
    • Novalee has one when she's woken up in the middle of the night by contractions, and then when her water breaks when she gets up.
    • As Novalee comes home with a Christmas tree, Lexie mentions off-hand that Americus is five months old. Novalee promptly panics and rushes home to find her daughter missing.
    • Novalee and Sister Husband when the tornado sirens go off.
    • Novalee, Americus, and Lexie when Sister Husband doesn't make it to the tornado shelter, and Novalee is nearly blown away when she goes out to find her.
    • Willy Jack when he's drunk, on the ground, and about to be hit by a train.
  • Outliving One's Offspring: A tragic case for the Whitecottons who lost their daughter Glory when she drowned at three. They never had any children since but take in Novalee and Americus like a surrogate daughter and granddaughter. The first time that Certain holds Americus, she looks almost like she never wants to let go of her.
  • Pædo Hunt: Willy Jack is arrested for picking up a 14-year-old hitchhiker. Based on the reactions of the other inmates, they probably know what he did.
  • Parental Abandonment: Novalee's father is never seen, and her mother only shows up to steal money from her and disappear again.
  • Parental Substitute: Sister Husband takes in Novalee and becomes like a grandma for Americus.
  • Rags to Riches: Novalee goes from a homeless pregnant teen squatting in a Walmart to an accomplished photographer, respectable community member, and loving wife.
    • Attempted by Willy Jack, but he makes several short-sighted decisions while trying to make it big (including abandoning his girlfriend, picking up a 14-year-old hitchhiker, and committing plagiarism) before losing his legs to a train.
  • Running Gag: Sister Husband and Mr. Sprock are devout Christians who are in love with each other, but don't want to get married. This leads to several instances of them praying for forgiveness after they've had sex, usually on the kitchen table.
  • Scars Are Forever: Lexie gets beaten bloody by one of her boyfriends, and winds up with a large scar next to her left eye.
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: Forney has no problem with breaking and entering a Walmart if there's a pregnant homeless teenager squatting inside, going into labor and in need of help delivering the baby.
  • Screw This, I'm Outta Here: Willy Jack dumping Novalee at the beginning of the film. He attempts it again after being informed the girl he's riding with is only 14 years old, but is arrested.
  • Single Woman Seeks Good Man:
    • Novalee falls in love with Forney, the local librarian.
    • Lexie was attracted to bad boys who would all end up getting her pregnant and running off on her. She would eventually marry dorky Ernie the Exterminator who despite looking frumpy and plain has a heart of gold.
  • Soft Glass: See Dynamic Entry above.
  • Spit Take: Done by Lexie when she and Novalee learn that Sister Husband left everything to Novalee.
  • Teen Pregnancy: In the book, Novalee is explicitly 17 years old when she is pregnant. Natalie Portman was only 19 when the movie was released, so this is presumably the case in the movie as well.
  • Theme Naming: Lexie has named all her kids after snack food.
  • Title Drop: When Novalee and Willy Jack are riding in the car at the beginning of the movie, Novalee brings Willy Jack's hand to her bump, and says that the place he feels the thump-thump-thump is where the heart is.
  • Totally 18: Averted with the hitchhiker that Willy Jack picks up after dumping Novalee- he's arrested after being informed that she's 14.
  • Trailer Park Tornado Magnet: Downplayed in that it's just one trailer seen endangered by a tornado, but that tornado kills Brother and Sister Husband.
  • What Does She See in Him?: Inverted. Novalee repeatedly insists that she and Forney are Just Friends and that the main root of his attachment to her is Americus. Lexie, who's somewhat The Ditz, figures out that Novalee believes Forney is too good for her and is not impressed. Forney is heartbroken when Novalee denies sharing his feelings in a Break His Heart to Save Him move. In the end, Novalee finally realises she does deserve happiness and admits that not only is she in love with him but that the feeling is mutual.
  • Wham Shot:
    • When the receipt for the flip-flops comes back as $5.55, Novalee panics and runs out to the parking lot, only to find an empty parking space where Willy Jack's car was.
    • Forney's sister being taken out of the library in a body bag.
    • Immediately after the tornado plows through town, Novalee is seen writing Sister Husband and Brother Husband's deaths.
  • Who Names Their Kid "Dude"?: Lexie names all her kids after snack food. Novalee, advised by Moses to give her baby a Meaningful Name, takes it a bit too far and names her daughter Americus Nation. Granted, it's not like most of the other characters have normal names anyway. Lampshaded by a coworker who, when asked which child called, suggested it might have been "Twinkie" or "Pez."
  • Wise Beyond Their Years: Americus is a remarkably well-adjusted and loving child, flourishing thanks to the attention and love given to her by her mother and all the people she knows.
  • Work Off the Debt: Novalee ends up being hired by the very same Walmart that she was squatting in while pregnant (presumably to pay off the debts that she had recorded).