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movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Tumbleweeds

Starring: Noah Emmerich, Janet McTeer
Director: Gavin O'Connor
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 104 Minutes
Release Date: December 1999
Genre: Drama

*Also starring: Cody McMains, Gavin O'Connor, Jay O. Sanders, Laurel Holloman, Ashley Buccille, Kimberly Brown, Lois Smith, Michael J. Pollard

Review by Walter Frith
2 stars out of 4

I've always disliked the notion that a certain film has to be a 'guy' or 'girl' flick. It would be nice if directors, writers, and actors could give a movie some interaction to make all films appeal at least in some part to everyone. But I guess this is wishful thinking and while it's hard to make a film like 'Rambo: First Blood Part II' appeal to women and a film like 'The First Wives's Club' appeal to men, 'Tumbleweeds' has a look and feel to it that appeals equally to men as it does to women whom I suspect were the target audience. It's an interesting film that can be enjoyed by both genders but I wouldn't recommend it as a date film.

There's a movie from 1990 with Cher, Winona Ryder, Bob Hoskins and Christina Ricci entitled 'Mermaids'. In this movie, Cher plays a mother raising her two daughters with a large degree of instability. She travels around the United States from one city to another and takes odd jobs and when she's had enough, she packs up and moves again. An experience which can be good or bad for children growing up, depending, of course, on the individual. 'Tumbleweeds' has a similar pattern but is a rather scattershot way of telling a story.

Janet McTeer stars as Mary Jo Walker, a mother with similar habits as the Cher character....traveling from one city to another with a young daughter in tow and as the film opens, there is a scene of domestic unpleasantness, something that would sort of set the tone for the rest of the picture which doesn't have a lot of focus but one that is extremely well acted by the entire cast. McTeer's character echoes trailer park trash. The booze, the men, the affairs, all done while her daughter Ava (Kimberly Brown) knows exactly what her mother is up to. Given the fact that McTeer is English, makes her performance all the more remarkable as she has to master a southern U.S. accent and learn the habits of a completely different culture. She has a knack for selecting the wrong friends, both male and female which usually lands her in trouble.

Ava finds a leading part in her latest school's play and tries to make the most of it and do something that will make herself and her mother proud. Given the fact that her mother has been married four times, gives Ava the longing to do something productive and it's rare and quite nice to see a daughter teach her parent something rather than the other way around. There is something unusual that gives Ava a different look at life. The play she stars in at school is a version of 'Romeo and Juliet' where she will play.....Romeo! The reversal of gender for the sake of a school play seems like a good idea but not all are crazy about the notion.

Another plus for the movie is how it teaches us not to judge people so quickly. There is strong shade of decency underneath Mary Jo's wild and open lifestyle. She really cares for her daughter. She is willing to be a loving wife to the right man and her willingness to be accepted by other people seems secondary to her independence.

The challenge for first time director Gavin O'Connor is finding something of a revelation in the lives of these characters that embodies something original or at least something familiar with a refreshing twist. One thing I enjoyed was the fact that O'Connor plays one of Mary Jo's beau hunks in the film, a truck driver named Jack. She is usually scared off by the wrong kind of man. Imagine her surprise when she inflames his seemingly good nature and scares him off with her wild ways.

Even with all of these good things pointed out about the film, it stops just short of getting a recommendation for several reasons. The film looks hurried and rushed through production. It smacks of a low budget that shows. Low budget films are often better than the real expensive Hollywood offerings, but in this case, it looked too much like a film that could have used more rehearsals, sort of like those 1940's war time pictures that were done with only a couple of takes because film, like all things during that period, were rationed.

Secondly, as appealing as this film is to both men and women, the male characters are given a rather secondary role in the film and we never get to know any of them extremely well. The very under rated Jay O. Sanders isn't given a whole lot to do and a familiar actor like Michael J. Pollard, who plays Mary Jo's boss, is little more than a hack character, sort of like the inept way he played in 1989's 'Next of Kin' where he played a flophouse manager with an IQ of about 1. Here, his job is a little more important but he still plays it like 'Forrest Gump'. 'Tumbleweeds', written by director O'Connor and Angela Shelton, would have been better off as a play, with the chance to re-vamp its story where you can do many things in live theatre but the art of film is permanent, not always a good thing for those who don't always make the right decisions.

Copyright 1999 Walter Frith

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