Urban Cinefile
"The two of us stood on the actual murder spot for a few minutes in silence, realising that true life, and death, are so much more important than the movies"  -from the filming diary of Alan Parker, making Mississippi Burning
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Saturday February 1, 2020 

Printable page PRINTABLE PAGE



Mary Jo (Janet McTeer) has had little luck with men. She’s been married several times and runs whenever things turn bad - as they inevitably do. When her latest man becomes abusive, she heads out on the road again with her daughter Ava (Kimberley J Brown). After her plan to hook up with an old boyfriend backfires, she agrees to Ava’s request to head for California. On the way, she meets a friendly trucker Jack Ranson (Gavin O’Connor) - and soon runs into him again in San Diego. There she finds a job with a security company and moves in with Jack. But she also finds herself the subject of attention from co-worker Dan Miller (Jay O Sanders).

"A towering (and Oscar nominated) performance from Janet McTeer buoys Tumbleweeds above the commonplace. The story, about a parent and child going on the road and coming to a new understanding of each other, has been done several times before - from Paper Moon to Anywhere But Here. But British actress McTeer provides enough ballsy bravado mixed with tender vulnerability to make it a consistently interesting production. Her down-home accent is perfect and she dominates the film in the same way Julia Roberts dominated Erin Brockovich. That said, Tumbleweeds is hardly groundbreaking stuff. Although McTeer’s Mary Jo is a fine study in irresponsibility, none of the characters are very original, from the precocious youngster (played with gusto by Kimberley J Brown), to the assorted losers with whom Mary Jo associates until she finds that one special man. Director Gavin O’Connor (who plays Jack in the film) wisely opts to keep the focus on Mary Jo; but this leaves precious little opportunity for any of the other characters to be strongly developed. As a result, they end up being little more than one-dimensional. And I was rather disappointed with the unsubtle use of Shakespeare as a plot device. The outcome of the story is a no-brainer but the film looks great thanks to the sunny San Diego locations. Notwithstanding its problems, I must say I enjoyed Tumbleweeds as a pleasant diversion - one helped along immensely by McTeer’s superb performance."
David Edwards

"Tumbleweeds' synopsis may not sound like much is going on, but rest assured, it's rich in earthy human drama, non-judgemental conflict, and wonderfully downbeat humour. It's not a hotheaded Thelma and Louise road movie, nor despite the thematic similarities a feel-good Anywhere But Here mother-daughter melodrama. Rather, Tumbleweeds drops the stereotypes and character judgements to present a fresh, tender, and unclichéd journey of mother-daughter dysfunction. That's probably because writer Angela Shelton has based the story on her own unpublished memoirs, with a little scripting help from her ex-husband and director Gavin O'Connor. The two have forged a remarkably telling drama of the human spirit, of how old habits die hard, and how new starts need to be given a real chance to mature. Tumbleweeds is episodic, but as a character-driven movie it hits the mark through an unforced warmth and dynamic central performances. Janet McTeer soars as the sultry Southern matriarch, exuding all the primal sexiness you can muster from a middle-aged mother, and newcomer Kimberly J. Brown is a natural, never forcing herself through scenes. Whether they're practicing lines for Ava's role as Romeo or winning fart contests in the local diner, they seem to be having the times of their lives. To weight the film with a little more heady drama, Jay O. Sanders chips in as Mary Jo's smitten co-worker and Ava's self-appointed Shakespeare instructor. All the elements seem to combine effortlessly here, and although the female road movie or the mother-daughter sagas are growing in numbers, Tumbleweeds will roll right on by without a care. Take a look - it deserves your attention.
Shannon J. Harvey

Email this article

Favourable: 1
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 1


CAST: Janet McTeer, Jay O. Sanders, Kimberly Brown, Gavin O'Connor, Laurel Holloman, Lois Smith

DIRECTOR: Gavin O'Connor

PRODUCER: Greg O'Connor

SCRIPT: Angela Shelton, Gavin O'Connor


EDITOR: John Gilroy

MUSIC: David Mansfield

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Bryce Holtshousen

RUNNING TIME: 102 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: September 7, 2000


VIDEO RELEASE: March 28, 2001

© Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2020