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5 reviews, 6 user ratings

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Tumbleweeds (1999)
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by Greg Muskewitz

"The underachieving twin of 'Anywhere But Here.'"
3 stars

"Tumbleweeds" is almost an exact replica of "Anywhere But Here," only this is a step below; it's kind of a hand me down, or the poor man's version. "Anywhere" didn't leave much room for another movie with a similar premise, especially one so close in details, but both films work for their own reasons.

What I liked about "Anywhere But Here" was mainly the wonderful performance of Natalie Portman, and the direction of Wayne Wang. Though this film was a little more pat and a little more generic, Wang was still capable of handling the material and coming across with it as his own.

Both movies have a premise that's been used many times: mother's been married and divorced for almost as many times as she can count on hands and toes; she takes her pubescent daughter and hits the road, in this case, as the title suggests, like "Tumbleweeds." Whereas "Anywhere But Here" was based upon the novel of the same name by Mona Simpson, "Tumbleweeds" was based on personal accounts by co-scripter and producer Angela Shelton.

Mary Jo Walker (Janet McTeer) has done everything aforementioned, and at the start of the film she is in an explosive fight with a boyfriend. She takes her daughter Ava (Kimberly J. Brown), who appears to be in the 5th or 6th grade (10-12 years old), to San Diego -- Solana Beach, actually, and mom gets work while daughter goes to school.

Everything here is a step down from "Anywhere." McTeer is no Sarandon, Brown no Portman, Director Gavin O'Connor no Wayne Wang. The family left behind is worse here, the car is crappier, and they end up in Solana Beach as opposed to Beverly Hills. Both daughters become involved in acting, though with Portman it's against her will and with Brown it's according to her will. Portman's acting is in film and Brown's is just in a school play (but not just any play, a Shakespearian play, *and* as the lead of Romeo [yeah, we know she's not a guy, but it's supposed to be ironic since girls weren't able to play the females' roles back then]). Both daughters get boyfriends -- guess whose is better?! The list goes on and on.

"Tumbleweed" works, though, mainly because of the audience's ability to connect with its characters. No one wants to see a woman get trapped with an abusive or hateful man. No one wants to see a little girl get toted around like a wardrobe accessory. Both the journey for the characters, as well as making the movie good, are struggles. O'Connor seems to give the film a very commercialized indie feel, but the fact that the film is an indie doesn't mean it needs to have the shaky camera, the bad audio, and the amateurish actors (this movie suffered from the first and last). Just because you have no budget and use all of these "pleas" doesn't mean you'll have a good film. But O'Connor works for it somewhat; although throwing himself into a pretty hefty role, he works in it as well. Yet there still are a lot of unnecessary scenes: the obligatory "coming of the period," the mom/daughter fights and cries, the maxi-pad scene where the two stick the pads all over their bodies and on a mannequin, etc., the making out with the apple scene, the talking about breasts scenes (they never call them breasts; instead they use everything from ta-tas to muffins), etc. Somehow it felt as if these scenes were just added to make a longer running time.

McTeer's and Brown's roles were conventional and stereotypical. However old Brown's character was, judging from the fact that she was still talking about *when* she'd get her breasts, she was too precocious. I didn't buy it. She was way too intelligent in some scenes, too mature in others, and then too immature in others to be someone of no more than 12. The inconsistency was a little much.

One pleasant surprise was Jay O. Sanders as Dan, a friend of Mary's from work, who obviously fits well with Mary and Ava, but they don't connect until near the end. But, oh well -- his presence was still appreciated. Brown and McTeer were good as well, although both are forgettable. That's the biggest problem with this movie; not only does it live in "Anywhere But Here's" shadow, but it's just so mundane and forgettable. However, I'm sure there are enough casting directors who will notice Brown and keep her working (although I think it may be a little too late for McTeer's career to take off. Supposedly she was nominated for an Oscar, though I don't know for what, and I've never heard of her before this). Also, I wouldn't mind seeing something else down the road from O'Connor; after all, this is just his debut, and this was much better than the debuts of directors Gary Sinyor (Stiff Upper Lips, The Bachelor), Mark Illsley (Happy, Texas), Scott Ziehl (Broken Vessels), Adam Rifkin (Detroit Rock City), and a host of others just from this year. So I think O'Connor has a decent shot.

Take it at face value. It can't hurt; not too bad.

Final Verdict: B-

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=1983&reviewer=172
originally posted: 11/27/99 04:19:00
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User Comments

11/04/00 natasha made me cry, but not in a cheesy Lifetime movie way 4 stars
7/08/00 Narf Magnificient performance by McTeer. One of the year's best. 5 stars
5/27/00 Jaime N. Christley Skip "Anywhere But Here" and see this instead. 4 stars
4/29/00 Laura Coerver Wonderful 4 stars
12/22/99 Jason Inspiring true story of mother and daughter - almost Thelma and Louise. Hilariously origina 5 stars
12/09/99 Danielle Great mother/daughter flick for a night out with mom!! 4 stars
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  10-Dec-1999 (PG-13)
  DVD: 24-Nov-2000



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