John Boorman has directed so many visionary, eccentric winners — Deliverance, Hope and Glory, The Emerald Forest — that he’s entitled to an occasional dud. But Where the Heart Is isn’t it. Despite critical nuking (including an ”F” in Entertainment Weekly) and a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it theatrical run, Where the Heart Is is an amiable mess of a movie, surprisingly watchable on video. It’s less a misfire than a sprawling, extended vacation.

The script, by Boorman and his daughter Telsche, updates You Can’t Take It With You‘s screwball family to ’80s New York. Dabney Coleman plays a hard-nosed demolition kingpin who gives the boot to his pampered offspring — free spirit Uma Thurman, downtown artist Suzy Amis, and video addict David Hewlett — so they’ll learn about real life. Relocating to a condemned Brooklyn mansion, the three take in a bizarre collection of boarders, which, after the stock market crash, includes their parents. Whereupon dad looks over the wreck of his life, decides that his kids are okay, and realizes that home is, yes, where the heart is.

Like its title, the movie wears its heart on its sleeve. The last half hour is one big homily to life, love and family. But even when the dialogue gets gooey, the characters are refreshingly unpredictable. There are tons of them, too: bankers, brokers, New Age mystics, fey fashion designers — all of them likably strange, none stereotypical. Daughter Amis is a satire of SoHo pretension until you see her paintings: They’re weirdly, impressively vivid.

The bumper-car plotting and sentimentality of Where the Heart Is may have been too much for theater audiences, but, seen in one’s own home, the movie has charm. Boorman’s not directing here; he’s hosting a party.C+

Where the Heart Is
  • Movie
  • 120 minutes