Weekly Wire
Austin Chronicle Tumbleweeds

By Marjorie Baumgarten

MARCH 6, 2000: 

D: Gavin O'Connor; with Janet McTeer, Kimberly J. Brown, Jay O. Sanders, Gavin O'Connor, Michael J. Pollard, Laurel Hollomon, Lois Smith. (PG-13, 100 min.)

This wonderful actors' piece deservedly earned star Janet McTeer an Academy Award nomination for her work. It's a wonderfully nuanced performance in an otherwise un-nuanced narrative. But McTeer's work, and that of all the supporting players ­ especially Kimberly J. Brown (best known for her work as Marah on the soap Guiding Light), is deft enough to take our minds off the familiarity of the material. The yarn is a mother-daughter drama who, as the tagline says, "run away from everything but each other." The bond between this mother and her 12-year-old daughter is the kind generally found only in books and movies, even though the story is said to be inspired by the real-life reminiscences of co-author Angela Shelton. Needless to say, the mother, Mary Jo, is a bit immature and the daughter, Ava, has a wisdom beyond her years. Mary Jo has a tendency to fall in the with the wrong men, and when each relationship inevitably turns bad, she up and splits, hitting the road and heading for a new town, new state, and new boyfriend ­ always with her daughter (and pet mouse) in tow. Although Mary Jo maintains her belief in happy endings and rosy futures, Ava understands the predictability of her mother's patterns and behavior. Tumbleweeds opens startlingly in the middle of one of Mary Jo's increasingly violent fights with her then boyfriend. A cut to a mouse on a treadmill and then shots of the frightened 12-year-old already packing, anticipating her mother's next move, tells us everything about this pattern that we need to know. But the crux of the story is the relationship between mom and child, a relationship that is inevitably becoming altered by the coming of the teenage years. Ava is going to grow up, even if Mary Jo never will. Schematically, there is little here that hasn't been seen before, although Tumbleweeds thankfully sidesteps a pat romantic ending. But watching these actors go through their paces is pure pleasure and it's no doubt why the film earned the coveted Filmmakers Trophy at the 1999 Sundance Film Festival.

2.5 Stars


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