After a career portraying precocious kids and, more recently, a teen queen, Natalie Portman is playing Mom. Based on Billie Letts’ 1998 Oprah Winfrey-sanctioned novel, the drama stars Portman as Novalee, a 17-year-old who gives birth on the floor of an Oklahoma Wal-Mart after her boyfriend (Dylan Bruno) ditches her on a cross-country trip. The film, under first-time feature director Williams (cocreator of ”Roseanne” and ”Home Improvement”), spans five years, following Novalee as she forges an off-kilter family – including Judd as a mother of four – in her adopted town.
For Portman, who sat in on two births as research for the role (thanks to her dad, a gynecologist), it wasn’t the chance to play grown-up that intrigued her. Rather it was the script by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel (”Splash,” ”Parenthood”). ”It had a very sweet tone to it; it was unabashedly well-meaning,” she says. ”There’s no cynicism, nothing edgy about it. It’s not trying to be that kind of movie.”
It is, however, the first film in which Portman takes the central role. ”You see her literally turn into this amazing, stunning, wonderful leading lady before your eyes,” says producer Susan Cartsonis. ”It’s pretty spectacular.” BUZZ FACTOR: 7