In a story that spans several years, 18-year-old Portman strains her credibility as the mother of a five-year-old, but in her scenes with veterans Channing and Sally Field (who drops by for a cameo) and emerging Hollywood player Judd, she exhibits a maturity that makes their men-are-scum-we-can-only-rely-on-each-other relationships credible.
Unfortunately, she doesn't demonstrate the same chemistry in her romantic relationship. As Forney, Prewitt is handsome and charming enough, but he just seems too old for Novalee.
Meanwhile, Willy Jack goes to jail for a few months, tries and fails at a career as a country-western singer and has his legs severed in a freak train accident in a secondary storyline that culminates in a conversation that encourages Novalee to pursue her true love. Ultimately, though, the audience doesn't care about Willy Jack and can hardly be expected to invest any emotional time in a character who deserts the heroine so heartlessly early in the film. Starring Natalie Portman, Ashley Judd, Stockard Channing, Joan Cusack and Sally Field. Directed by Matt Williams. Written by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel. Produced by Susan Cartsonis and Matt Williams. A Fox release. Romantic comedy. Rated PG-13 for intense thematic material, language and sexual content. Running time: 120 min