Triple Bypass

Hard-luck Novalee Nation (Natalie Portman) puts a great deal of terrified faith in numerology: She was five when her momma left her, got 55 stitches in her arm the time a barfly slashed her, and receives $5.55 in change just before her scumbag boyfriend strands her—barefoot, pregnant, and 17—in an Oklahoma Wal-Mart, where she later gives birth. Likewise, the Grand Guignol-on-trailer-wheels horror show Where the Heart Is indulges something of a number obsession, amounting not exactly to a movie but rather a tallying of atrocities (which add up, inexorably, to Novalee triumphing over all assembled odds).

A handy index:

  • Total number of children born to Novalee and her harder-luck friend Lexie (Ashley Judd) who are abandoned by their fathers: 6

    Details

    Where the Heart Is
    Directed by Matt Williams
    Written by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel
    A 20th Century Fox release

    Into My Heart
    Written and directed by Anthony Stark and Sean Smith
    A Sweetland release
    Opens May 5

    Spin the Bottle
    Directed by Jamie Yerkes
    Written by Amy Sohn
    Pioneer Theater
    Opens May 4

  • Total number of fathers: 5

  • Number of said children named either for dessert snacks or Latinizations of Italian explorers (e.g., Brownie, Praline, Americus): 6

  • Number of cameos by Sally Field: 1

  • Number of scenes in which Novalee sits on a bench looking forlorn until someone happens by to rescue her: 3

  • Number of scenes in which said rescuer is played by Stockard Channing: 2

  • Number of filmmakers liable for this bloody mess who also cocreated Home Improvement: 2

  • Grand total of tornado deaths, alcohol deaths, instances of domestic abuse, instances of child sexual abuse, kidnappings, and legs severed by trains: 9

  • Number of fine actresses who should know better: 3


    The anemic Into My Heart shares a titular coronary focus with Ms. Portman's junker as well as a fatal narrative reliance on cosmic comeuppance. The fallout from a man's affair with his best friend's wife becomes an unwitting study in cognitive dissonance: A woman in an impossibly serene marriage commits adultery for no apparent erotic or psychological reason; a man forever marked by a horrible childhood accident is said to have "no emotional scar tissue—he's never been hurt" (subsequent events prove this conclusion correct); and a mawkish script and glacial pacing butt heads with some fine, understated performances. The droll rapport between Rob Morrow's cad and Jake Weber's cuckold feels especially lived-in, recalling the effortless deadpan rhythms of Wonder Boys but throwing Into My Heart's forced operatics into sharper relief.


    Also making a go at the tragedy tryouts, Spin the Bottle sends five childhood friends—now in their late twenties—back to the summer cottage of their youth, where a game of that junior high basement-party standby dredges up latent insecurities, grudges held over from eighth grade, and forbidden homoerotic longings, scattering all lives concerned into disarray. Former New York Press sex columnist Amy Sohn wrote the script, in which characters quip and navel-gaze as lonely yuppie singles are apparently wont to do, while the plot pirouettes on tidy gotcha reversals: The uptight lawyer turns out to be closeted, the dumbshit stud harbors a Machiavellian streak, and the sex-obsessed, commitment-averse, frank-talkin' seductress bitch turns out to be the wryest, wisest, most self-aware aching soul of the bunch.

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