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[whitespace] Kimberly J. Brown, Janet McTeer Beach Buddies: Daughter Ava (Kimberly J. Brown) and mother Mary Jo (Janet McTeer) draw strength from each other as they seek a new life by the ocean.

Beach Therapy

A mother and daughter roll into a new life in fanciful the low-budget 'Tumbleweeds'

By Richard von Busack

IN GAVIN O'CONNOR'S Tumbleweeds, Janet McTeer plays Mary Jo Walker, a woman from the Carolinas who has been married four times. She tries to escape her bad luck with men by pulling up stakes and heading out on the road. Her daughter, Ava (Kimberly J. Brown), named after Ava Gardner, is her partner on these hegiras from men. For a change, the mother and daughter have found themselves a comfortable roost, Starlight Beach (actually San Diego's funky/crummy Ocean Beach).

There, in defiance of the job and housing situation in the average California beach town, Mary Jo immediately lands a room in a good and inexpensive motel and is hired as a clerk in an office. (Michael J. Pollard is squandered in a few inconclusive scenes as her strange boss.) At a nearby bar, Mary Jo re-encounters Jack (director O'Connor severely miscasting himself), a truck driver who helped her once, and the two move in together. In Ava's school, the girl is a natural for the upcoming production of Romeo and Juliet. Trouble starts as truck driver Jack begins to show his more abrasive side.

The premise of this mediocre indie film is that Mary Jo and Ava ought to be supported by someone who can appreciate their flightiness and fancifulness--their quirks--but that the man in question ought not to have any moods of his own. Tumbleweeds may look like a film about a free spirit, but it's really a film about a mooch. London stage actress McTeer works a broad accent, which is steady even if it isn't convincing, and she hasn't learned to turn down her facial expressions for the camera. As a character, precocious Ava is strictly from television. Yet Brown's rapport with McTeer is the only worthwhile quality of the movie. In one telling scene, the two women cuddle each other for comfort after their car has been broken into. This brush with crime is the only sign of what a rough world it is out there for the rootless.

Tumbleweeds may have cost less than the similar Anywhere but Here, but a low budget doesn't equal believability. Badly observed, speculative scenes of everyday poor-person life lead up to Mary Jo's tenancy in a $400,000 house on a plant clerk's wages. In short, here's a movie not just as empty but as improbable and escapist as any big-budget fantasy.

Tumbleweeds (PG-13; 100 min.), directed by Gavin O'Connor, written by Angela Shelton and O'Connor, photographed by Dan Stoloff and starring Janet McTeer and Kimberly J. Brown, opens Friday at Camera 3 in San Jose.

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From the December 9-15, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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