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TUMBLEWEEDS(director/writer: Gavin O’Connor; screenwriter: based on the memoirs of Angela Shelton; cinematographer: Dan Stoloff; editor: John Gilroy; cast: Janet McTeer (Mary Jo Walker), Kimberly J. Brown (Ava Walker), Jay O. Sanders (Dan), Gavin O’Connor (Jack Ranson), Michael J. Pollard (Cummings), Laurel Holloman (Laurie Pendleton), Lois Smith (Ginger); Runtime: 102; Fine Line Features; 1999)
“The slim story didn’t hold my interest.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A very obvious melodrama about the relationship of a southern-white trash mother-daughter. A congenial bonding story where the lesson the mother learns is so plain, that it almost brings the film down to a childish level. British actress Janet McTeer gives an earthy and zesty performance, as she becomes absorbed in her part and plays it with emotional force.

Mother and daughter bond on the road; they leave West Virginia after a battle with mother’s current abusive boyfriend and head West to Missouri to find a man she dated from high school 10 years ago. But he’s become obese and lives on a broken-down junkyard farm, and so she takes one look at him and doesn’t even get out of the car and continues heading West.

The mother always leaves town after a lover’s spat. She married at 17 and has since had four husbands and many boyfriends, all of them are belligerent and possessive. She has traveled to different parts of the South to get away from them, seemingly wandering aimlessly around. Janet McTeer is Mary Jo Walker. The 12-year-old daughter Ava is played with adolescent tenderness by Kimberly J. Brown. She is someone who is disturbed by her mother’s behavior, who loves her mother but is upset with her for only thinking about sex.

Stuck with a broken car hose in the middle of the desert, the pair are rescued by a strapping truck driver–Jack (Gavin O’Connor-he directed & wrote the screenplay). He fixes the hose and flirts with mom, while Ava mumbles out loud here we go again. When they leave Jack, never expecting to see him again, they settle in Starlight Beach, California. This conveniently turns out to be where Jack lives. Mary Jo says it is an act of fate.

Mother and daughter settle into Jack’s house and since Jack is a carbon copy of every man she has gone out with, we wait for the explosion between them to occur. Meanwhile Mary Jo gets a clerical job with a twerpy boss (Pollard), who is a pervert. She makes friends with another female clerk and avoids the nice man in her workplace, Dan (Sanders), who is attracted to her but can’t make contact, except as a friend. Ava likes the gentle widower and tries her best to push them together.

Ava finds that she likes living in this pleasant town, where she gets the part of Shakespeare’s Romeo in the school play. She also kisses her first boy and feels the pangs of puppy love.

The predictable fight then comes between the quick-tempered and bossy Jack and the hard-luck Mary Jo, but this time Ava refuses to run away from town with her mother. The two move out of Jack’s and try to make a go of it in town, as all indications are that this is where they will stay for now. Whether Dan is Mr. Right for her is left up in the air, as one wonders if she is attracted to him. But, at least, the mother shows signs that she is getting wearied of abusive relationships and that maybe her next choice will be a better one.

The immature mother learns from her mature daughter; and, this modest indie road film which gets into the lives of real people, works in a limited way. The slim story didn’t hold my interest.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”