Tumbleweeds

Directed by Gavin O'Connor
Starring: Janet McTeer, Kimberly Brown, Gavin O'Connor, Jay O. Sanders, Michael J. Pollard.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for language, sensuality and a scene of domestic discord.

Review by Matt Heffernan
January 3, 2000

My first review of the year 2000 may seem like deją vu. That's because it's for a film with a premise very similar to Anywhere But Here, which came out less than two months ago. However, Gavin O' Connor's Tumbleweeds has a definite independent spin. His previous film, Comfortably Numb, was slapped with an NC-17 rating and therefore not distributed well. This is actually his first try at a "mainstream" PG-13 film.

A fourth marriage has ended in hostility for Mary Jo Walker (Janet McTeer), so she and her daughter, Ava (Kimberly Brown), hit the road yet again. They leave North Carolina and drive out to California to start a new life on their own. But Mary Jo is a creature of habit, and she can't live without a man in her life. Ava is smart enough to see her mother's pattern, but her warnings are ignored when Mary Jo shacks up with a truck driver named Jack (O'Connor).

Mary Jo finds work at an auto supply business, filing paperwork for the eccentric Mr. Cummings (Michael J. Pollard). She makes friends there, including Dan (Jay O. Sanders), who also helps Ava audition for a school play. Despite the obvious benefits of a relationship with Dan, Mary Jo insists that Jack is going to be the one that finally works out for her.

What is interesting about Tumbleweeds, and what sets it apart from Anywhere But Here, is O'Connor's direction. He uses a lot of hand-held shots, almost making this alleged "chick flick" look like an action film. When Mary Jo's behavior or situation become chaotic, so does the scene. This brings you into the character's emotions with great intensity. Of course, this technique would not work without McTeer's brilliant performance as a modern-day Blanche Dubois (now it's starting to sound like All About My Mother!).

The big surprise, though, is Brown's film debut. After growing up on "The Guiding Light", she has proven herself to be a great talent. She and McTeer were magic together, creating genuine moments of tension and humorous release. The whole film is so close to perfection, but the story is still conventional and being even slightly predictable can detract from a potentially great independent film.

This film can't get wide distribution right now, but accolades such as the National Board of Review's Best Actress Award for McTeer should help it. She has also been nominated for a Golden Globe, which should help more people see the superior mother-daughter road movie of 1999 in this new year.


For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
Tumbleweeds (1999)

Here's some merchandise for sale at Amazon.com
Tumbleweeds (1999) -- VHS
Tumbleweeds (1999) -- DVD
Tumbleweeds: Music From The Motion Picture -- Compact Disc


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Review © 2000 Matt Heffernan