Movie Review by Michael Parker
Starring: Janet McTeer, Kimberley J Brown
Director: Gavin O?Connor
It sometimes seems as though Americans only do 3 things: they?re either lawyers, doctors or architects. Or so the film industry would have us believe. TUMBLEWEEDS though, shows us a very different America ? no flash New York penthouses or New England mansions here, but down-to-earth back street, middle of the road ordinariness. And no that doesn?t mean we?re then into the next cliche ? the psychopathic tendencies of family and neighbours. So it?s not AMERICAN BEAUTY either.
No, TUMBLEWEEDS is way more real. That?s not to say the characters are dull or ordinary, in fact they make a great mixture of types and personalities, but there?s nothing hidden away behind Janet McTeer?s ever-striving portrait of a woman driven towards her dream of happiness and perfection. She plays the optimistic Mary Jo with a compelling conviction, and with the looks and demeanour that you would expect of someone whose patience and expectations of a place and its people, only last for a few months at a time. Her optimism that the perfect husband must be out there, means she is always moving on, and always expecting the next guy to give her the time of day, might just be ‘the one’.
It is her 12 year-old daughter Ava who has her head screwed on though. She has her mother and partners summed up at every bend in the twisted path that the pair lead, as each relationship falls apart, and Mary Jo abandons all and heads off up the road again.
Persuaded by the ever charming Ava to go to Starlight Beach, California this time, both make their friends and settle into life with new interests and possibilities. But when the next break-up comes, this time Ava feels she has too much to lose, and refuses to go. By doing so she finally begins to teach her mother to stand up to herself and others, and realise that running away every time is not an adequate solution.
The portrayal of bond between the two is effortlessly played by Janet McTeer and the young Kimberley J Brown, who laugh and argue together like real life long adventurers.
The story is based on the real life background of director Gavin O?Connor?s partner Angela Shelton, who wrote the screenplay between them. But this is not a stilted autobiography, more a few snapshots of a similar existence, and one of the downsides is the lack of reference to time, so one is unsure of just how events span across timescales.
TUMBLEWEEDS is limited in its visual scope, as a result of its very limited budget, and yet it benefits from that in offering such an intimate and focussed view of the real relationship here, that of mother and daughter. A French film spoken with a Southern drawl? Well not quite, but nearer that than the average American emotional block-blaster.