Tumbleweeds (1999): Gavin O’Connor’s Tale of Woman in Crisis, Starring Janet McTeer in Oscar-Caliber Performance

In its keenly observed account of a woman at the crossroads of life and self-realization, Tumbleweeds manifests the talents of Gavin O’Connor as director and co-writer (with former wife Angela Shelton).


Theatrical release poster

Culling his narrative from the white working-class South, O’Connor delivers a uniquely American road movie, marked by a critical eye, sharp and offbeat humor, and compassion. After experiencing yet another lover, abuse, and disappointment, Mary Jo grabs her meager possessions, her feisty daughter, and her tattered shards of optimism and hits the road in search of a new, more meaningful life.

In the next to last scene, which is the dramatically necessary, Ava and Mary Jo flee the restaurant, and spend the night in a motel, as they had in the past. Mary Jo is adamant that the two leave town, with only their clothing on their backs, but Ava thinks otherwise, telling her mother that she is tired of moving from state to state and is frustrated by her carefree attitude.  Although Mary Jo is at first furious at Ava’s refusal to cooperate, Mary Jo  finally realizes the urgent need to make significant changes in their lives, as her immature behavior has had negative repercussions on her daughter.

Staying at the house Mary Jo’s friend, mother and daughter begin to rebuild their new lives together. Mary Jo gets a job at a plant nursery, and then moves in with her former office boss, a sympathetic widower.

Janet McTeer, who won a 1997 Tony Award for her role in Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House,” delivers a heartbreaking, Oscar-caliber performance as a modern, confused heroine trying to juggle her roles as a woman and mother.

Though recalling other American movies about women in crisis, Tumbleweeds is refreshingly devoid of sentimentality, cynicism, or cliches.

The low-budget feature did not fulfill commercial expectations, despite good review, but it effectively furthered the career and profile of Janet McTeer.

Of Similar Interest:

Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore (1974)

Janet McTeer as Mary Jo Walker
Kimberly J. Brown as Ava Walker
Gavin O’Connor as Jack Ranson
Jay O. Sanders as Dan Miller
Laurel Holloman as Laurie Pendleton
Lois Smith as Ginger
Michael J. Pollard as Mr. Cummings
Cody McMains as Adam Riley
Sara Downing as Rachel Riley
Ashley Buccille as Zoe Brussard
Jennifer Paige as The Nurse


Directed by Gavin O’Connor
Produced by Greg O’Connor

Written by Gavin O’Connor and Angela Shelton

Music by David Mansfield

Cinematography: Dan Stoloff

Edited by John Gilroy

Distributed byFine Line Features
Release date: November 24, 1999
Running time: 100 minutes