Where the Heart Is (2000)

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Released 20-Jan-2003

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Menu Audio
Theatrical Trailer
Music Video-That's The Beat of A Heart
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 2000
Running Time 115:05
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (52:27) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Matt Williams

Twentieth Century Fox
Starring Natalie Portman
Ashley Judd
Stockard Channing
Joan Cusack
James Frain
Case ?
RPI $31.95 Music Mason Daring

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English for the Hearing Impaired
French Titling
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement Yes, Kodak, and a flavoured milk drink
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Novalee Nation (Natalie Portman) has lived in a caravan park all her life (this is where the derogatory term "white trailer trash" comes from). She is pregnant and due to deliver in about six weeks' time. She accompanies her boyfriend Willy Jack Pickens (Dylan Bruno) in a road trip to California where they will make their future home as Willy has dreams of making it big as a singer.

    Along the way, Willy shows Novalee (and us) just how cruel and insensitive he is but apparently Novalee is too dumb to realise. About halfway through the journey, they stop by at a Wal-Mart store and Novalee is abandoned by Willy as she visits the toilet.

    Devastated, she doesn't know what to do. A kind but slightly kooky stranger called Thelma "Sister" Husband (Stockard Channing) befriends her. "Sister" is an alcoholic and is under the mistaken impression that Novalee is someone she knows.

    Novalee is accidentally locked in the Wal-Mart store when it closes and has to spend the night there. Gradually this becomes a routine for her and she basically lives in the store for the next few weeks (thank goodness Wal Mart has everything! Clothes, food, sleeping bag, alarm clock, ...). Over time, she also befriends a frustrated ex-college student/local town librarian called Forney Hull (James Frain).

    When she eventually goes into labour one dark, stormy night, Forney comes to the rescue. Overnight, she becomes famous as the unmarried mother who gave birth in a Wal-Mart and is pursued by the media as well as the public. Novalee acquires a new friend, nurse Lexie Coop (Ashley Judd) who seems to have a phenomenal ability to get pregnant and names her kids after snack foods (Brownie, Praline, ...).

    As the film progresses, many incidents happen to Novalee but she survives through them all. However, will she ever realise Forney is in love with her? In the meantime, Willy secures an agent called Ruth Meyers (Joan Cusack) and has some initial success but then ...

    I quite enjoyed this film, based on the book by Billie Letts. Acting performances are strong all round, and Ashley Judd steals just about every scene she is in!

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality


    The transfer is in widescreen 1.85:1, and is 16x9 enhanced. Unlike the rental version which was a Pan & Scan transfer, the retail version is faithful to the intended aspect ratio of 1.85:1 based on a 35mm film.

    This is a superb transfer, marred only with very occasional film marks (black scratches and hair marks). Very slight grain is occasionally noticeable but not objectionable.

    Detail levels are good, although the overall look is very slightly on the soft side. Likewise, colours are well saturated though the tone is ever so slightly yellowish (but nothing to complain about).

    Given that the two hour film is spread over two layers, there are no instances of compression artefacts.

    There are three subtitle tracks: English for the Hearing Impaired, French, French Titling (the last is enabled when you select the French audio track). Unfortunately, you have to select subtitle tracks from the menu and they are not switchable on the fly. Accuracy of the English for the Hearing Impaired track is about average, with some dialogue being simplified and occasional words or phrases left out. There is a minimal amount of dialogue attribution and transcription of foley effects.

    This is a single sided dual layered disc (RSDL). The layer change occurs at 52:27 and is very well placed for it happens when the camera pauses for a brief moment on Novalee's face.

Video Ratings Summary
Shadow Detail
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts


    There are two audio tracks on the disc: English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384kb/s), French Dolby Digital 5.1 (384kb/s). Of course, I chose the English track to listen to.

    Even though a lower bitrate was used (384Kb/s vs 448Kb/s), the track sounded quite pleasant to listen to. Dialogue was nice and clear, the background music was well presented but never obtrusive, and there were no issues with audio synchronization.

    Incidentally, the background music seems to be a mixture of excerpts from various pop tunes which I did not recognise (a full listing is provided in the closing credits) and an orchestral score by Mason Daring. Much is made of a song (That's The Beat of A Heart) sung by "Billy Shadow" a.k.a. Willie Pickens (Novalee's ex-boyfriend).

    Normally, films like these are very dialogue focused, and this one is no exception, but I was pleased to discover that some effort has been made into mixing the foley effects for surround. The rear speakers are used consistently for ambience in background music, but also for various environmental sounds, creating an enveloping and immersive audio that I enjoyed immensely. A very good example is lightning rumble from around 24:47 onwards, around the time Novalee enters into labour, featuring split surrounds and some interesting directional steering of the rumbling across all speakers.

    The subwoofer is also used consistently to support the low frequencies in the audio track, particularly for thunderstorms and during the tornado scene.

Audio Ratings Summary
Audio Sync
Surround Channel Use



    The main menu is 16x9 enhanced and includes background audio.

Theatrical Trailer (2:22)

    This is presented in 1.33:1 and Dolby Digital 2.0 (192kb/s). There are three subtitle tracks present, but they are all silent.

Music Video - That's The Beat of A Heart (3:40)

    This is "That's The Beat of A Heart," performed by The Warren Brothers and Sara Evans, presented in 1.33:1 and Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s). Incidentally, it is the song that Willy sings in the film. It is a typical music video featuring the brothers kissing babies (maybe they are practising to be politicians) plus excerpts from the film.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 4 version of this disc misses out on;

    The Region 1 version of this disc misses out on;

    An earlier R4 rental-only release has a Pan & Scan transfer, only one audio track (English Dolby Digital 5.1) and no extras.

    The extras on R1 are not substantial so I wouldn't go out of my way to acquire it.


    Where The Heart Is is a rather episodic drama about the (mis)adventures of a young pregnant girl and the friends she meets.

    The video transfer is excellent.

    The audio transfer is also excellent and features some interesting surround effects are what is mostly a dialogue-driven film.

    Extras are very limited.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Christine Tham (read my biography)
Saturday, January 04, 2003
Review Equipment
DVDCustom HTPC (Asus A7N266-VM, Athlon XP 1800+, 512MB, Pioneer DVD-103S, WinXP, PowerDVD 4.0 XP), using RGB output
DisplaySony VPL-VW11HT LCD Projector, ScreenTechnics 16x9 matte white screen (254cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials/Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials/Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationDenon AVC-A1SE (upgraded)
SpeakersFront and rears: B&W CDM7NT; centre: B&W CDMCNT; subwoofer: B&W ASW2500

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