IN "TUMBLEWEEDS," teenage Ava Walker (Kimberly J. Brown) has a pretty significant problem. Her mother (Janet McTeer) changes states every time she breaks up with a man -- which is just about all the time.
"Any idea where we're going?" asks Ava after her mother's latest romantic disaster.
"Well, I was thinking about Arizona," says Mary Jo.
"What are we going to do there -- get someone else you wanna marry?" says her resentful daughter.
After a lot of sassy, southern-style discussion and an unfortunate male diversion in Missouri, mother and daughter settle on California. But the car breaks down and Mom gets friendly with a passing truck driver called Jack (Gavin O'Connor). Ava rolls her eyes again.
"You probably would have married him if he wasn't heading in the wrong direction," she says.
Do you have a sense of this? Independent movie. Character-driven scenes, full of extended dialogue. Roots music on the soundtrack as they traverse the country. Scenes in roadhouse bars. Big strapping men and Mama's batting eyelids. Know what I mean, Sug?
In California, Mary Jo gets a telephone-answering job and Ava gets quickly acclimatized to her new school. But unfortunately for Ava, they run into Jack again. He seems nice, at first. Mary Jo thinks he might just be the right man. Ava doesn't.
"Tumbleweeds," a crowd-pleasing hit at the recent Sundance film festival, has its fair share of charms, mostly in terms of performance. McTeer puts a lot of rough-and-ready moxie into her role. O'Connor, who also directed and co-wrote the movie with Angela Shelton, presents a fairly rich character who hovers somewhere between nice guy and domestic problem. And as Ava, Brown makes a believably down-to-earth kid -- not too precocious, not too cute, just as normal as a kid could be under these circumstances.
But the movie stays actor-friendly rather than narratively oriented. The scenes are always interesting, in terms of spending time with these characters, but they tell us the same thing, over and over: Mary Jo's mistakes and Ava's seething disappointment. There is a certain, emotional evolution to the story. But abstract nuances do not a great finale make, and this movie stays in a sort of pleasant middle range. True to its title, "Tumbleweeds" blows along its own desert floor, first one way then another, and not particularly settling anywhere.
TUMBLEWEEDS (R, 100 minutes) -- Contains strong language, sexual situations and domestic tension. At the Cineplex Odeon.