Home Is Where the Heart Is

Movie review by
Renee Schonfeld, Common Sense Media
Home Is Where the Heart Is Movie Poster Image
Heavy family drama with tragedy, substance abuse.
  • PG-13
  • 2014
  • 115 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Encourages holding fast to one's dreams, believing in a positive outcome, and taking action to achieve goals. However, the movie's resolution does not pay off these messages.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The 10-year-old heroine is a model of resilience, resourcefulness, courage, loyalty, and honesty. Despite a series of major calamities, she holds fast to her values. The older sister learns to be responsible, mature, and have a positive outlook. One Hispanic law enforcement officer is always courteous, understanding, and helpful. 


A menacing ex-lover threatens to kill a leading character and then manhandles her, chokes her, and attempts to force himself on her. A frightened horse kicks his owner in a lightning storm. A lengthy sequence shows a woman vomiting, convulsing, and nearly dying after consuming pills and alcohol; she is saved by a 10-year-old girl who sticks her fingers down the dying woman's throat. 


An evolving love story has multiple romantic scenes in which a man and woman undress and dive into a swimming pool; they kiss, embrace, undress, begin sexual foreplay, and appear in bed after lovemaking. No actual nudity is shown. References are made to premarital sex and a miscarriage.


Occasional swearing and vulgar language: "damn," "girls pee together," "jack-offs," "kiss my ass," "jackass," "donkey's d--k," "brain fart," "bastard," "smash your nuts," "got laid." 


Budweiser beer and Bud Light are frequently featured. Vicodin and eBay are mentioned.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Substance abuse is a key plot element. An alcoholic woman dies early in the film; a young woman nearly dies from a lethal combination of a prescribed narcotic and alcohol. However, in scene after scene, almost all the characters drink with abandon in social settings (mostly beer), sometimes to excess. Relaxation and fun are associated with alcohol consumption. One man drives while inebriated.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Home Is Where the Heart Is is a family drama attempting to show grace and redemption in the face of devastating tragedy, but the film's good intentions fall short. Despite its positive messages of hopefulness and belief in one's dreams, it's a very sad movie. Cotton, its 10-year-old heroine, is battered by one catastrophe after another; as soon as she recovers from one traumatic experience, there's another on its way. Two likable leading characters fall in love and engage in romantic scenes that include kissing, embracing, undressing, and being in bed together, but there's no actual sex or nudity. Moderately offense language is heard occasionally ("kick-ass," "donkey's d--k," "smash your nuts," "bastard"). Though one early fateful event happens because of severe alcoholism, consumption of adult beverages is a key recreational activity in scene after scene. Prescription drug use also plays an important part in the story when (spoiler alert) a disturbing overdose requires the 10-year-old to perform dire life-saving measures.

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What's the story?

Cotton (Bailee Madison) is only 10 when her alcoholic mother dies in HOME IS WHERE THE HEART IS. Her sister Sunny (Laura Bell Bundy) comes back to the fading town of Bent Arrow, Texas, hoping to patch things up with her mom after a long estrangement, but she's too late. And Sunny certainly didn't expect to be charged with responsibility for a younger sister. It's a difficult transition, but Cotton is full of love, optimism, and hope, so Sunny makes an effort to stick it out. Cotton is very close with Butch, her eccentric neighbor, an ex-football player who spends his time with his horse, his guitar, and his watercolor postcards. Cotton counts on Butch for just about everything and determines that he and Sunny would make a wonderful set of parents for her. A little matchmaking begins. What Cotton didn't count on, however, was the awful secret her sister brought home and the actions of the mean, heavy-drinking boyfriend Sunny left behind in her hometown. Cotton's faith and positivity are challenged in the series of disastrous and life-changing events that follow.

Is it any good?

Generally good performances and the sincerity of the filmmakers can't make up for the bleak setting, the dead-end characters who populate that setting, and the unpredictable ending. Cotton is a great kid -- wise beyond her years, compassionate, funny, and wholly accepting of those she loves, despite their weaknesses and faults. In what is meant to be an inspiring tale reinforcing Cotton's optimism and joy, awful events, along with the character defects of others, conspire to knock her down again and again. By the film's end, Cotton has suffered the loss of her mother, major disappointments, a horrific scare, and a second tragedy. It's hard to imagine that even the most resilient little girl could survive the onslaught with her giving heart intact. And, the audience has suffered with her. The ending is unpredictable only in that it's hard to believe anyone could face all those traumas in such a short time. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Cotton's optimistic attitude about life and her belief that "it's not stupid to dream." In what ways, if any, did this movie prove her right? 

  • Think about the skills it takes to be a good parent. Which character (or characters) in this film was portrayed as a good parent?    

  • How successful were the filmmakers in creating the setting for this film? Did you have a sense of what the town of Bent Arrow looked like? Where the people worked? Where Cotton went to school? Her friends? Why the town was having such hard times? 

Movie details

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