Review by Michael Jacobson
Janet McTeer, Kimberly J. Brown, Jay O. Sanders, Gavin O’Connor
Director: Gavin O’Connor
Audio: Dolby Digital Surround
Video: Widescreen 1.85:1 Anamorphic Transfer, Standard 1.33:1
Studio: New Line Cinema
Features: Filmographies, Director Commentary, Trailer
Length: 100 Minutes
Release Date: April 11, 2000
What a wonderfully effervescent movie is Tumbleweeds. It’s warm and charming, and as sunny as the desert the
characters drive through. It’s a
sweet look at some of life’s awkward moments, and the audience is cordially
invited to join the people on the screen in laughing at them without
It is a simple tale lifted to great heights by the buoyancy
of Miss Janet McTeer, who turns in a winning, spirited performance as Mary Jo, a
loving mother with a heart of gold but not quite enough common sense to go with
it. As the film opens, she’s
engaged in a loud, bitter battle with a soon-to-be ex, while her daughter Ava
(Brown) quietly, nervously begins to pack in her room.
She knows what’s coming, and we, the audience, understand that this
isn’t the first time the pair has taken to the road under these circumstances.
Mary Jo has a youthful fire inside…borderline immature,
to be frank. “I like being
married,” she tells Ava. She’s
still sure she’ll find a prince charming and live the rest of her days wrapped
in romantic splendor from sunup to sundown.
It’s never quite so easy in real life, but I couldn’t help but be
charmed by her willingness to try, try again, even if I did question her
judgment from time to time.
At Ava’s beckoning, they head for California, and
possibly a chance to lead a normal, grounded life…provided mother can stay
away from the men. Right off the
bat, it doesn’t look promising, as Mary Jo seems swept off her feet by a truck
driver, Jack (O’Connor) who reminds her of the Marlboro man (of all the images
she could have picked for a romantic ideal!).
Mary Jo gets a job, Ava begins to settle into school with
some new friends and a shot at being in her drama class’ production of Romeo
and Juliet (and by the way, all the kids in this movie are delightful, and I
treasured each of their scenes). But
Mary Jo soon hooks up for real with Jack, her knight in shining chrome and
steel, and the two women move in with him.
Will it work this time? Or
will history repeat itself? More
importantly, a question I pondered was, do some things go wrong simply because
deep down, you expect them to?
The story line is simple, and one we’ve seen before,
including recent films like Anywhere But
Here and Hideous Kinky.
What makes this film a slight cut above, in my opinion, is the fact
that for the most part, it’s not about the story, but about moments.
There are many wonderful, funny, touching, real moments in this picture.
How Mary Jo teaches Ava how to kiss and breathe at the same time, using
an apple for demonstration. Or how
Mary Jo first acquires, then later departs from her newest job.
The scenes were her co-worker Dan (Sanders) teaches Ava how to read
Shakespeare from the heart (literally), and later shares a quiet, heartfelt
moment of revelation with her. Or
when Ava’s new young boyfriend tells her she’s a great kisser.
“My mom taught me,” she informs him.
“Cool,” he says. And
This is a wonderful cast, and young Kimberly J. Brown is an
impressive find…a youngster with true acting talent, who easily carries her
weight with the more experienced pros around her. There’s no reason to think we won’t be seeing much more
of her in the future. And
co-writer/director Gavin O’Connor makes a nice acting turn as Jack, the truck
driving knight whose armor is not quite so polished.
And as mentioned, all the kids in this film are charming and winning.
But Janet McTeer’s performance is the true core of this
movie, and she proves herself a tremendous talent. Her sincere, funny, sexy and honest work in this film makes
Mary Jo one of the most appealing characters of the year, in my book.
Like Blanche DuBois, she sometimes has to depend upon the kindness of
strangers, but when push comes to shove, there’s enough strength in to stand
alone. Her Golden Globe win and
Oscar nomination were both well merited, and I’m looking forward with much
anticipation to her future work.
I only watched the anamorphic widescreen version (full
frame also available), and I found it to be a pleasant visual experience.
The movie is obviously fairly low budget, so money was not lavished upon
intricate cinematography, but for the most part, the images stay sharp and
clean, with good coloring throughout, particularly in the many sunny daylit
scenes. I noticed no grain or
artifacts, which pleased me considering that the dual layer feature on this disc
was used to include both screen sizes, rather than allowing more space to
overcome any necessary compression.
No complaints in this department, but nothing to get
enthused about either. Not a lot of
dynamics in this Dolby Surround track, with most of the sound coming from the
front and sparse, if any, use of the surround tracks, but then again, this is a
character driven, dialogue oriented film. The
music and spoken words come through nicely and cleanly, which is really the most
you can ask for.
This isn’t a Platinum Series entry from New Line, but it
still comes with a trailer, DVD ROM extras, filmographies and a running
director’s commentary track.
Tumbleweeds is a simple, modest little movie that just plain succeeds. It is a warm and funny look at a terrific mother/daughter relationship, and is a film that’s filled with charm, humor, and the unbridled spirit of throwing caution to the wind and treating life like the adventure it is. Well written, aptly directed, and superbly performed, this one is a definite keeper.