Tumbleweeds

1999, PG-13, 100 min. Directed by Gavin O'Connor. Starring Janet McTeer, Kimberly J. Brown, Jay O. Sanders, Gavin O'Connor, Michael J. Pollard, Laurel Hollomon, Lois Smith.

REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Sat., March 4, 2000

Tumbleweeds

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 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.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Gavin O'Connor Films
Jane Got a Gun
Natalie Portman stars in and produced this Western

Marjorie Baumgarten, Feb. 5, 2016

Pride and Glory
Edward Norton and Colin Farrell top this predictable police procedural about clean and dirty cops who are also brothers in a family of Irish cops.

Marjorie Baumgarten, Oct. 24, 2008

More by Marjorie Baumgarten
This Job Will Change Your Life
This Job Will Change Your Life
Former staff reflect on the zigs and zags of life post-Chronicle

Sept. 3, 2021

Nomadland
Story of America's itinerant population wanders too much

Feb. 19, 2021

KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

Tumbleweeds, Gavin O'Connor, Janet McTeer, Kimberly J. Brown, Jay O. Sanders, Gavin O'Connor, Michael J. Pollard, Laurel Hollomon, Lois Smith

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle