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    Stumbling "Tumbleweeds"

    "Tumbleweeds," about a manic mom and down-to-earth daughter rolls along without amounting to much.


    Hot on the heels of — and certainly not to be confused with — that other mother-daughter road picture currently doing the rounds (the Susan Sarandon/Natalie Portman "Anywhere But Here"), Gavin O'Connor's "Tumbleweeds" tumbles into town — and will likely tumble right back out again.

    Directed by: Gavin O'Connor.
    Written by: Angela Shelton and Gavin O'Connor.
    Cast: Janet McTeer, Kimberly Brown, Gavin O'Connor, Jay O. Sanders, Lois Smith, Laurel Holloman, Michael J. Pollard, Noah Emmerich, Ashley Buccille, Cody McMains.
    Cinematography: Dan Stoloff.

    Related links: Official site | All of David N. Butterworth's reviews at Rotten Tomatoes
    In addition to lacking spark, it's simply not that good a movie.

    Writer/director O'Connor, who also appears in the film as a melancholy truck driver, might think he has something going here but what he has is a Performance (capital "P") and a handful of secondary characters and situations that don't amount to much.

    That Performance comes courtesy of Janet McTeer, a respected English stage actress who won a Tony for her performance as Nora in the 1997 West End revival of Ibsen's "A Doll's House." In "Tumbleweeds," McTeer makes a radical departure by playing Mary Jo, a sassy West Virginian single mom. McTeer throws herself into the role with aplomb: Mary Jo is brash and uninhibited, dresses for sexual success, and has zero talent when it comes to picking suitable mates (or "future ex-husbands" as her 12-year-old daughter likes to quip).

    Your enjoyment of the film will entirely depend on just how irritating you find Mary Jo's character.

    Ava, her daughter, is played by newcomer Kimberly J. Brown. She's adequate in the role, but is no Natalie Portman, and serves mainly as a sounding board to McTeer's liberated ebullience.

    As the film opens, Mary Jo is in the middle of yet another domestic argument. She and Ava pack up and hit the road. If we all upped and ran every time we squabbled with our spouses there'd be a heck of a lot more traffic on the interstates. Where to this time? Ava suggests California after a breeze through Missouri leaves an unappetizing old flame standing with reverse-tire tracks burned into his driveway.

    But it's not long before Mary Jo sets her sights on some other wagon-hitching material.

    O'Connor's character, Jack, is an odd one — hapless and sullen. I swear he doesn't smile once in the entire picture. OK, so perhaps when he first meets our female protagonists, when their car runs out of water on the highway — "I should've used my piss!" squawks Mary Jo alluringly.

    While some might find Mary Jo's vulgarity a little much at times, there's no denying that her relationship with her daughter is an open and loving one. The film, however, takes the all-too-obvious tack of having the mother be the carefree, irresponsible one with the daughter providing the centered, calming influence. Tumbleweeds rushes to summarize this familiar dichotomy in a creaky metaphor concerning Mary Jo's reluctance to go near that big Pacific ocean. You don't need to have seen "Anywhere But Here" to know it'll be Ava who serves as her swim coach.

    DECEMBER 20, 1999

    Reader comments on Tumbleweeds:

  • Tumbleweeds   from Karen Townsend, Dec 11, 2002
  • [no subject]   from amber rodriguez, Apr 28, 2004

  • Post a comment on "Tumbleweeds"