4 September 2001 | sddavis63
Strong Start That Slowly Fades Away
For the first 1:15 or so, I was really enjoying this sweet and funny movie about a young girl (Novalee, played by Natalie Portman) dealing with being pregnant and unmarried, who is abandoned by her boyfriend (Dylan Bruno) and takes up residence (unknown to anyone) in a local Wal-Mart. After giving birth to the baby in the store, she is swindled and abandoned by her mother (Sally Field) but survives and flourishes thanks to the kindness of some rather eccentric strangers.
So far, so good. Very enjoyable. But the last 45 minutes or so really unravelled rather quickly. I questioned the need to continually bring us back to Willie Jack's (the baby's father) attempts to get a singing career going. None of his scenes really served to advance the plot in any way, and quite frankly, the guy was a loser who abandoned his pregnant girlfriend. I didn't care what happened to him - even though some of what happened was poetic justice - and the movie could have been shortened by 20 or 30 minutes - without losing a thing - if all his scenes had been simply cut. I also felt that it was totally unnecessary to include (albeit - thankfully - only for a few minutes) a theme about child molestation. Where did that come from and why? It made a relatively enjoyable movie very heavy, and it was a heaviness that - for me at least - never really disappeared. The end of the movie (revolving around the relationship between Novalee and Forney (James Frain) was also telegraphed quite early on.
Having made those criticisms, the real highlight of the movie for me was Natalie Portman as Novalee. I wasn't familiar with this young actress until now, but she was marvellously cast as the sweet, innocent, naive young Novalee, and then showed a wonderful capacity to show her character evolve into a mature and independent young woman. (I have to say that, while the movie seemed to be trying to say she was a great mother, she seemed to spend a lot of time away from little Americus, but that's a minor point.) Portman was excellent, and I will look forward to seeing her again.
This rates a 6/10. Would have been higher, except for the weak second half.