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IN SHORT: Dynamite, full blooded acting. Great flick for the grownups. [Rated [PG-13], 100 minutes]
Unlike another flick in which mom and kidlet wind up in California, Gavin O'Connor and Angela Shelton's script for Tumbleweeds, based on Shelton's memoirs, has a lock on reality and enough supporting characters that you won't come to the automatic conclusion that every time you see a new face, something is going to radically change.
Mother Mary Jo Walker (Janet McTeer) and 12-year old daughter Ava (Kimberly J. Brown) live life as a road trip. An uneasy one. Mary Jo's been married four times, has a penchant for finding guys on the borderline of physically abusive and prefers to fight first and then run. The accent may be southern but the woman ain't trash. Ava is used to the cut and run lifestyle. She knows to pack once she hears dishes breaking. Picking the town of Starlight Beach, California out of a book the pair settle in to another new life. Ava meets new friends. Mary Jo learns about coffee enemas from Laurie Pendleton (Laurel Holliman), who works at the security company that Mary Jo lands a job with. Said company is run by a very weird dude (Michael J. Pollard), who'll one day take the count on a harrasment charge. The nice guy of the story also works at the security company. Dan (Jay O. Sanders) is the kind of guy that is always the perfect man, always perfectly overlooked.
Mary Jo's problem is that she shacked up with trucker Jack Ranson (Gavin O'Connor), who fixed her busted radiator hose once upon a time. Jack tries hard but, Mary Jo is set in her ways, dontcha know. Jack's conservative. Mary Jo is not. Ava keeps a bag close at hand but she's reaching the age where she's big enough that things like friends and boys and roots are just as important to her as they aren't to her mom.
Here's the joy of watching this film. All along the line, when Mary Jo sees guys, Ava knows to distract her mother by whatever means possible. This worked the first time they met Jack, but kidlets ain't allowed into California bars and that's where it all gets interesting. Tumbleweeds offers up a mother daughter relationship that feels authentic, supporting characters who actually belong in the story and have something more to do with the story than showing up at the right points to move it along. Dynamite performances from the Broadway pair of McTeer (a Best Actress Tony Award for A Dolls House back in 1997) and Brown (who played the young Collette in Les Mis. It's her face staring out of the poster, I'd bet...) are complemented by O'Connor's Dan, who teaches Ava all about Shakespeare with more than unexpected results.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Tumbleweeds, he would have paid...
Tumbleweeds just goes to show how much more enjoyable a mother-daughter story can be if the two stars aren't fighting it out for critical notice. Highly recommended
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