Tumbleweeds (1999 film)
Tumbleweeds is a 1999 American drama film
Drama film
A drama film is a film genre that depends mostly on in-depth development of realistic characters dealing with emotional themes. Dramatic themes such as alcoholism, drug addiction, infidelity, moral dilemmas, racial prejudice, religious intolerance, poverty, class divisions, violence against women...

 directed by Gavin O'Connor. He co-wrote the screenplay with his then-wife Angela Shelton
Angela Shelton
Angela Shelton is an American screenwriter, actress, and documentary film producer, best known for the film Tumbleweeds and the documentary Searching for Angela Shelton, which she wrote, directed, and edited...

, who was inspired by her memories of a childhood spent on the road with her serial-marrying mother.


The story revolves around Mary Jo Walker, a single mother whose usual reaction to trouble is to pack her car with her belongings and take her pre-teen daughter Ava in search of greener pastures. The film commences with a strong-willed Mary-Jo in an altercation with a man. As this is something which is routine in Ava's life, she packs a suitcase as she prepares herself for their inevitable departure.

Mother and daughter embark upon a journey. When a reunion with an old beau in Missouri
Missouri is a US state located in the Midwestern United States, bordered by Iowa, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas and Nebraska. With a 2010 population of 5,988,927, Missouri is the 18th most populous state in the nation and the fifth most populous in the Midwest. It...

 proves to be less successful than anticipated, Mary Jo accedes to Ava's desire to see the Pacific Ocean
Pacific Ocean
The Pacific Ocean is the largest of the Earth's oceanic divisions. It extends from the Arctic in the north to the Southern Ocean in the south, bounded by Asia and Australia in the west, and the Americas in the east.At 165.2 million square kilometres in area, this largest division of the World...

 and heads west. Mary Jo wishes to separate herself from her old life, which is manifested when she and her daughter throw the former's clothing from the car window. En route they're assisted by long-distance trucker Jack Ranson, who coincidentally re-enters their lives after they've settled in San Diego. Once again, Mary Jo forgoes both her independence and daughter's well-being in favor of having a man in her life. On face value, Ava's life has changed for the better. For example, she makes friends with a girl in her class (although they later part ways when the girl becomes jealous of Ava's acting talents). Ava also secures a starring role in the school play, "Romeo and Juliet
Romeo and Juliet
Romeo and Juliet is a tragedy written early in the career of playwright William Shakespeare about two young star-crossed lovers whose deaths ultimately unite their feuding families. It was among Shakespeare's most popular archetypal stories of young, teenage lovers.Romeo and Juliet belongs to a...

". Lastly, Ava is ecstatic when she finds a boyfriend, who takes her to watch a movie. Matters, however, become complicated when Jack becomes verbally aggressive. Jack exhibits his true personality when he takes Mary Jo and Ava to dinner and becomes infuriated by Ava's attitude. Ava, however, is just excited about the prospect of having a leading role in the play.

When Ava and Mary Jo flee the restaurant, they spend the night in a motel
A motor hotel, or motel for short, is a hotel designed for motorists, and usually has a parking area for motor vehicles...

, a scenario with which both mother and daughter are familiar. The next day, Mary Jo is adamant that the two leave town, with only their clothing on their backs. Ava decides to put her foot down and rebel. She is tired of moving from state to state and is frustrated by her mother's carefree attitude. Although Mary Jo is at first furious at Ava's refusal to cooperate, Mary Jo then realizes that there is the need to make significant changes in their lives.

Toward the end of the movie, Ava and her mother stay at a house that a friend of Mary Jo's had loaned to them. Ava rebuilds her friendship with the same girl in her class, and both she and her mother start to rebuild their lives together at their new home.


The film was shot on location in Agoura Hills
Agoura Hills, California
Agoura Hills is a city in Los Angeles County, California, and has the ZIP code 91301. The population was 20,330 at the 2010 census, down from 20,537 at the 2000 census. It is located in the eastern Conejo Valley between the Simi Hills and the Santa Monica Mountains. This city on the Ventura...

, North Hollywood
North Hollywood, Los Angeles, California
North Hollywood is a district in the San Fernando Valley region of the city of Los Angeles, California, along the Tujunga Wash. It is bounded on the south by Moorpark Street and the Ventura Freeway, on the southwest by Burbank Blvd...

, Malibu, and the Eagle Rock
Eagle Rock, Los Angeles, California
In 1909, Hill Avenue, now Hill Drive, was one of Eagle Rock's most beautiful streets. Other streets were Royal Drive , Acacia Street , Kenilworth Avenue , Highland Avenue , and Fairmont Avenue...

 neighborhood in Los Angeles
Los Ángeles
Los Ángeles is the capital of the province of Biobío, in the commune of the same name, in Region VIII , in the center-south of Chile. It is located between the Laja and Biobío rivers. The population is 123,445 inhabitants...


The soundtrack
A soundtrack can be recorded music accompanying and synchronized to the images of a motion picture, book, television program or video game; a commercially released soundtrack album of music as featured in the soundtrack of a film or TV show; or the physical area of a film that contains the...

 includes "Private Conversation" by Lyle Lovett
Lyle Lovett
Lyle Pearce Lovett is an American singer-songwriter and actor. Active since 1980, he has recorded thirteen albums and released 21 singles to date, including his highest entry, the number 10 chart hit on the U.S. Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, "Cowboy Man"...

, "My Heart Skips a Beat" by Buck Owens
Buck Owens
Alvis Edgar Owens, Jr. , better known as Buck Owens, was an American singer and guitarist who had 21 No. 1 hits on the Billboard country music charts with his band, the Buckaroos...

, "One of These Days" by Emmylou Harris
Emmylou Harris
Emmylou Harris is an American singer-songwriter and musician. In addition to her work as a solo artist and bandleader, both as an interpreter of other composers' works and as a singer-songwriter, she is a sought-after backing vocalist and duet partner, working with numerous other artists including...

, "One Night Stand" by Lucinda Williams
Lucinda Williams
Lucinda Williams is an American rock, folk, blues and country music singer and songwriter. She recorded her first albums in 1978 and 1980 in a traditional country and blues style and received very little attention from radio, the media, or the public. In 1988, she released her self-titled album,...

, and "Sea of Heartbreak" by Johnny Cash
Johnny Cash
John R. "Johnny" Cash was an American singer-songwriter, actor, and author, who has been called one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century...


The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival
Sundance Film Festival
The Sundance Film Festival is a film festival that takes place annually in Utah, in the United States. It is the largest independent cinema festival in the United States. Held in January in Park City, Salt Lake City, and Ogden, as well as at the Sundance Resort, the festival is a showcase for new...

 and was shown at the Toronto International Film Festival
Toronto International Film Festival
The Toronto International Film Festival is a publicly-attended film festival held each September in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. In 2010, 339 films from 59 countries were screened at 32 screens in downtown Toronto venues...

 and the Austin Film Festival
Austin Film Festival
The Austin Film Festival was started in 1994 in Austin, Texas and is claimed to be "the first organization of its kind to focus on the writer’s unique creative contribution to the film and television industries"...

 before opening in Los Angeles and New York City
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

 on November 24, 1999.


  • Janet McTeer
    Janet McTeer
    Janet McTeer, OBE is a British actress.-Life and career:McTeer was born in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, United Kingdom, the daughter of Jean and Alan McTeer...

     as Mary Jo Walker
  • Kimberly J. Brown
    Kimberly J. Brown
    Kimberly J. Brown is an American actress. She is best known for her roles as Marah Lewis #3 on The Guiding Light and Marnie Piper in the Halloweentown film series .-Career:...

     as Ava Walker
  • Gavin O'Connor as Jack Ranson
  • Jay O. Sanders
    Jay O. Sanders
    Jay Olcutt Sanders is an American character actor.Sanders was born in Austin, Texas, to Phyllis Rae and James Olcutt Sanders. He is noted for playing Mob lawyer character Steven Kordo in the 1986–88 NBC detective series Crime Story...

     as Dan Miller
  • Laurel Holloman
    Laurel Holloman
    Laurel Holloman is an American actress, best known for her roles as Randy Dean in the 1995 indie film The Incredibly True Adventure of Two Girls in Love, Justine Cooper on Angel, and Tina Kennard on the Showtime series The L Word.-Career:Laurel attended the University of North Carolina and...

     as Laurie Pendleton
  • Lois Smith
    Lois Smith
    Lois Smith is an American actress whose career in theater, film, and television has spanned five decades.Smith was born Lois Arlene Humbert in Topeka, Kansas, the daughter of Carrie Davis and William Oren Humbert, who was a telephone company employee...

     as Ginger
  • Michael J. Pollard
    Michael J. Pollard
    - Early life :Born Michael John Pollack, Jr. in Passaic, New Jersey, he is the son of Sonia and Michael John Pollack. He attended the Montclair Academy and the Actors Studio.- Career :...

     as Mr. Cummings
  • Sara Downing
    Sara Downing
    Sara Nicole Downing is an American actress who has had a starring role in the television series Dead Last.-Filmography:* Boy Meets World .... Camryn...

     as Rachel Riley

Critical reception

In his review in the New York Times, Stephen Holden
Stephen Holden
Stephen Holden is an American writer, music critic, film critic, and poet.Holden earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English from Yale University in 1963...

 said the film "is a modestly produced slice of Americana. But its central performances are so extraordinarily nuanced and the screenplay so perfectly attuned to the twang and beat of everyday speech that in places the movie feels like a documentary . . . There are many moments when what is on the screen stops looking like acting and becomes life itself, and you're watching real people change and grow before your eyes."

Glenn Lovell of Variety
Variety (magazine)
Variety is an American weekly entertainment-trade magazine founded in New York City, New York, in 1905 by Sime Silverman. With the rise of the importance of the motion-picture industry, Daily Variety, a daily edition based in Los Angeles, California, was founded by Silverman in 1933. In 1998, the...

said, "Powered by uncommon rapport between its femme leads and helmer's roughhewned sensibility, pic has what it takes to becomes the year's first heartfelt sleeper
Sleeper hit
A sleeper hit, a.k.a. surprise hit , refers to a film, book, single, album, TV show, or video game that gains unexpected success or recognition...

 . . . [it] has topnotch production values and a strong supporting cast going for it."

In the San Francisco Chronicle
San Francisco Chronicle
thumb|right|upright|The Chronicle Building following the [[1906 San Francisco earthquake|1906 earthquake]] and fireThe San Francisco Chronicle is a newspaper serving primarily the San Francisco Bay Area of the U.S. state of California, but distributed throughout Northern and Central California,...

, Peter Stack observed, "Tumbleweeds is far from a slick Hollywood-style production. It's not encumbered, for one thing, by star power . . . [and] its lack of stars becomes part of its charm . . . The interplay between Mary Jo and Ava is the film's great treat. They seem utterly natural together, bound by mother-daughter ties that are complex, touching, ultimately so powerful they yield the kind of tearful joy rarely experienced at the movies."

Peter Travers of Rolling Stone
Rolling Stone
Rolling Stone is a US-based magazine devoted to music, liberal politics, and popular culture that is published every two weeks. Rolling Stone was founded in San Francisco in 1967 by Jann Wenner and music critic Ralph J...

said, "McTeer and Brown make magic in a film that is wonderfully funny, touching and vital."

Awards and nominations

  • Academy Award for Best Actress
    Academy Award for Best Actress
    Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role is one of the Academy Awards of merit presented annually by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to recognize an actress who has delivered an outstanding performance while working within the film industry...

     (Janet McTeer, nominee)
  • Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Musical or Comedy
    Golden Globe Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Musical or Comedy
    The Golden Globe Award for Best Actress – Motion Picture Musical or Comedy was first awarded by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association as a separate category in 1950...

     (Janet McTeer, winner)
  • Independent Spirit Award for Best Actress
    Independent Spirit Award for Best Actress
    The Film Independent's Spirit Award for Best Female Lead is one of the annual Independent Spirit Awards.-1980s:-1990s:-2000s:-2010s:...

     (Janet McTeer, nominee)
  • Independent Spirit Award for Best Debut Performance (Kimberly J. Brown, winner)
  • National Board of Review Award for Best Actress
    National Board of Review Award for Best Actress
    The National Board of Review of Motion Pictures Award for Best Actress is one of the annual film awards given by the National Board of Review of Motion Pictures.-1940s:-1950s:- 1960s :- 1970s :- 1980s :- 1990s :- 2000s :-2010s:...

     (Janet McTeer, winner)
  • Satellite Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Musical or Comedy
    Satellite Award for Best Actress - Motion Picture Musical or Comedy
    The Satellite Award for Best Actress in a Motion Picture Musical or Comedy is one the Satellite Awards, given annually by the International Press Academy.- 1990s :- 2000s :- 2010–2019 :...

     (Janet McTeer, winner)
  • Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role - Motion Picture (Jenet McTeer, nominee)
  • Sundance Film Festival
    Sundance Film Festival
    The Sundance Film Festival is a film festival that takes place annually in Utah, in the United States. It is the largest independent cinema festival in the United States. Held in January in Park City, Salt Lake City, and Ogden, as well as at the Sundance Resort, the festival is a showcase for new...

     Filmmakers Trophy (Gavin O'Connor, winner)
  • Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize (Gavin O'Connor, nominee)
  • Young Artist Award
    Young Artist Award
    The Young Artist Award is an accolade bestowed by the Young Artist Foundation, a non-profit organization founded in 1978 to recognize and award excellence of youth performers, and to provide scholarships for young artists who may be physically and/or financially challenged.The Young Artist...

    for Best Performance in a Feature Film - Leading Young Actress (Kimberly J. Brown, winner)
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