What sets Tumbleweeds apart from other films about mothers and daughters is the frank and open relationship between Mary Jo Walker (Janet McTeer) and 12-year-old Ava (Kimberly J. Brown). Nothing is taboo between them, even the usually thorny subject of sex. But then, Mary Jo isn’t shy about her sexuality or desires.
Married four times, with a host of other lovers, the optimistic Mary Jo is a hopeless romantic who believes she’ll find Prince Charming and that fabled happily ever after. So when a love affair goes sour, she hits the road with Ava, heading for a new town and a fresh start.
This time, at Ava’s prompting, they head west to California and the quaint seaside community of Starlight Beach. Initially, things follow the usual pattern: Ava starts at a new school while Mary Jo finds another dead-end clerical job and domineering man, Jack Ranson (Gavin O’Connor). But when situations invariably get messy, Ava refuses to leave, thereby forcing Mary Jo to face the prospect of staying in one place long enough to deal with the consequences of her actions.
Tumbleweeds is a sweet film with a rambling charm and raunchy sense of humor. There’s a lifetime packed into its 100 minutes: Screenwriter Angela Shelton based the story on her own experiences traversing the country with a freewheeling mom. Director O’Connor (who co-wrote with ex-wife Shelton) is also charming and menacing as the trucker whose ideas of a traditional family don’t mesh with the willful, resentful Ava or her rebellious, sassy mother.
British stage actress McTeer has received well-deserved accolades for the seemingly effortless way she embodies a free-spirited Southerner, but Brown’s performance is equally good. The pair convey a remarkable intimacy and ease with one another that’s vital to Tumbleweeds, which shows that the often prickly relationship between a mother and daughter can also be the most important one of their lives.
Serena Donadoni writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail her at firstname.lastname@example.org.