Title: Where The Heart Is
Author: Billie Letts / Screenplay: Lowell Ganz
Published: August 17th 1995 / Released: April 28th, 2000
Publisher: Sceptre / Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Genre: Drama, Romance
Age group: Adult
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Talk about unlucky sevens. An hour ago, seventeen-year-old, seven months pregnant Novalee Nation was heading for California with her boyfriend. Now she finds herself stranded at a Wal-Mart in Sequoyah, Oklahoma, with just $7.77 in change. But Novalee is about to discover hidden treasures in this small Southwest town–a group of down-to-earth, deeply caring people willing to help a homeless, jobless girl living secretly in a Wal-Mart. From Bible-thumping blue-haired Sister Thelma Husband to eccentric librarian Forney Hull who loves Novalee more than she loves herself, they are about to take her–and you, too–on a moving, funny, and unforgettable journey to . . . Where the Heart Is.
Once when I was probably in high school I stumbled upon this movie ‘Where The Heart Is’ on some TV channel. I loved it right away, and since that time the movie was re-watched non less than a hundred times. I’ve known about the book it was based on and even had it on my e-reader for quite a long time, but only this week I actually got to read it. Maybe it had something to do with my 101st re-watching of the movie.
What got my attention in the first place was how light the script was in comparison to the book. The toughest, serious and heart-breaking scenes were either taken away completely or shown in less striking detail.
This can mostly be noticed in Willy Jack’s story. In the movie we barely see him and what we do see is rather vague. I understand the addition of his part of the story into the book in the first place as kind of a lesson, a life example of the saying ‘You get what you give’. And the movie does achieve this purpose, the book though makes this character more real, more alive, with his flaws and mistakes. In the movie he’s just some dumb guy, who makes some really bad choices not thinking about the consequences, living for himself. And in the end he gets what he deserved for abandoning his girlfriend and daughter. Willy Jack from the book is mean, egoistic and has quite enough bad qualities about himself to first get in jail, than be left with no money or job, and no legs. I was never really interested in Willy Jack’s story while watching the movie, but reading the book I was really drawn. Even though I already knew the ending, I was satisfied that he finally understood what he lost.
Another fact that I just loved about the book is that every character in it has their own story. The movie is mostly focused on Novalee, Willy Jack and probably Lexie and Forney, but even then the attention is on the two main characters. The author Billie Letts though created wonderful characters, and as she mentioned in her Q&A they are all based on real people of Oklahoma she once knew. Sister Husband, Moses Whitecotton, Benny Goodluck, Forney Hull, they all are the representatives of the real American society. They are very different, their lifes equally contain some dark and tragic moments and happier times. In the movie though all of this is lost, these secondary characters are either absent (Benny Goodluck) or shown superficially, making them appear less important than they actually are. But they are still charming and relatable, both for what they did for Novalee and Americus and just for being good-natured and kind people. The movie even portraits them kind of funny, which I think was planned to make this another funny yet inconsequential rom-com.
Typically for a book adaptation there were some changes within the script, but I consider them not that important as they didn’t spoil the whole perception of the movie. The most important scenes were all filmed and some minor changes, like Novalee’s unlucky number being now 5 instead of 7 wasn’t that critical.
The additions from the scriptwriter were not so big and they all were very likable, I particularly loved the main song ‘The Beat of a Heart’ written and sang by Willy Jack. It’s not the same to read about a song in a book, it’s lyrics, as to actually hear it and see the character perform it. I think the song was spot on, it was very moving and it’s words were very much connected to the general message of the story.
In fact, despite the differences between this two versions of the story, I still loved them both. The book is very meaningful, very descriptive, but it’s also an easy-reading material. The things it tells about – home, family, friendship and happiness, shows it in the characters’ acts, can also be traced in the movie, making it just as inspiring.
But this movie is one of those rare times when I love a book adaptation, because it really does the book justice. Besides with such amazing actresses – Natalie Portman, Ashley Judd and Stockard Channing, it can’t be a failure. So it’s a win-win situation for me, as I loved both the movie and the book, and I would recommend it to anyone, who loves stories about family, friendship and finding yourself.