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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 5/2/00

1999 (2000) - New Line

review by Dan Kelly of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Tumbleweeds Film Rating: B+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A/B+/C

Specs and Features

102 mins, PG-13, widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, full-frame (1.33:1), single-sided, dual-layered, Snapper case packaging, audio commentary with director/co-writer Gavin O'Connor, theatrical trailer, cast and crew filmographies, DVD-ROM features (including Script to Screen screenplay access and the original theatrical web site), film-themed menu screens, scene access (30 chapters), languages: English (DD 2.0), subtitles: English and French, Closed Captioned

Tumbleweeds had the bad fortune of opening just a short while after a movie with very similar subject matter, bigger names on the marquee and a distributor with more money. The similarities and comparisons are inevitable, but on its own, Tumbleweeds is just as good as Anywhere But Here, its bigger-budgeted counterpart.

As the story starts, Mary Jo (Janet McTeer) is in a heated argument with her boyfriend. Her daughter Ava (Kimberly J. Brown), long familiar with the routine, is in her bedroom packing her belongings. Together they leave North Carolina, in Mary Jo's old beater of a car, and head off to California in search of a better life. When their car breaks down on the highway, a helpful trucker named Jack (director Gavin O'Connor) offers them a helping hand. A short while later, Mary Jo has a job as a phone operator at a security company, her daughter has the lead in the school play and they've moved in with Jack.

Ava soon starts to realize that Jack, like her mother's other husbands and boyfriends, may not be the best choice for her. But Mary Jo is so blinded by her own drive to feel needed by a man that she doesn't acknowledge what Ava already knows - Jack has a short temper and is quickly becoming very controlling of the two of them. He is not necessarily a bad man, but he lets his emotions take over him so completely, that he becomes a victim of his own weaknesses. Mary Jo is now forced to confront the reality of her future with Jack. She wants to run away again, but Ava needs to stay and lets her mom know this.

Kimberly J. Brown's performance as Ava comes across more like a child-sized adult than a pre-teen girl. She is very bright and can pick up on the motivation behind each of her mom's life choices. Sometimes she can talk to her mom very much like an adult, and is able to listen attentively when Mary Jo tells her about the joys of men and sex. Other times, she acts like a kid and does the same thing her mom does when it comes to confrontation: running away.

Showy performances usually get attention when it comes to awards, so I was glad to see Janet McTeer's skilled work here get the recognition it did. She never goes overboard with her piece, and her mastery of a southern accent rivals Meryl Streep's ability to take on different brogues. McTeer plays Mary Jo as a complex woman with very basic needs. She knows what's good and bad for her, but it sometimes takes her a while to see what's in front of her and what's passing her by.

There's a very touching scene near the end of the movie where Mary Jo is helping Ava get ready for her first date. When Ava leaves, she is alone and stares into the mirror with tears in her eyes. Without saying a word, her eyes show every emotion she's feeling; a mixture of longing for the blissful innocence of first finding love and the sadness of losing her daughter's dependence on her for all her needs.

Tumbleweeds is presented on DVD in a very strong anamorphic picture. A tidy, dust and scratch-free print was used and there is no compression artifacting or any other errors that sometimes occur when transferring celluloid to a digital medium. The color palette of the movie remains intact with a strong, vibrant color field. Blacks are appropriately dark without being overly harsh or blotchy. This is a single-sided disc, and you can choose widescreen or full frame at the main menu. The Dolby Digital 2.0 surround mix is well balanced and appropriate for a movie more geared toward dialogue than effects.

New Line included a small, informative set of features on this disc. First, we get the original theatrical trailer with New Line's standard anamorphic enhancement. There's also a commentary by Gavin O'Connor. He has lots to say about the movie, but quite frequently meanders off the subject as he delves into stories about his personal life with co-writer Angela Shelton. O'Connor is relatively new to directing, and many times he comes across as needlessly unsure of his directing skills. He is quick to point out mistakes he and his crew made in the film. Brief filmographies and the movie's script on the DVD-ROM complete the disc's features.

Multiple award nominations for Janet McTeer's spirited performance didn't help Tumbleweeds at the box office. I only hope it doesn't get brushed aside in the home video market the way it did in theatres. This is a winning portrait of a strong mother/daughter relationship that I think will hold up to multiple viewings. Great chemistry between Janet McTeer and Kimberly J. Brown and a good, if slightly formulaic, script help to make Tumbleweeds one of the more engaging films of 1999 and a great addition to your DVD library.

Dan Kelly

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