This cheaply budgeted US indie arrives over here with a glowing reputation. It picked up the Film-makers Trophy at Sundance last year, while its lead actress Janet McTeer has been awarded a Golden Globe for her performance. And yet, given the fate of the similarly themed Anywhere But Here, it's hard to feel sanguine about the likely impact of this modest yarn.
Based on Angela Shelton's account of her own childhood, Tumbleweeds sees writer-director O'Connor take an almost diaristic approach to the storytelling. The concentration is on the day-to-day experiences of Mary Jo and Ava: mealtimes, home-decorating, a trip to the local bowling alley... Although this strategy highlights the intimate link between these two, it also leads to an element of dramatic dullness. Particularly, the subplot regarding Ava's desperate attempts to play Romeo in the school play. Cue endless Shakespearean recitals, and mother eventually realising who her own Romeo is.
Yet despite the limitations of the material, McTeer does produce a consummate performance. In her first major film role, this British-trained stage actress perfectly transforms her-self into a working-class mother from North Carolina, effortlessly capturing all the facets of her character.
Kimberly J Brown contributes an assured performance as Ava, although the script saddles her with that familiar quality of wisdom-beyond-her-years. The director himself gives a creditable acting turn as the moody, controlling Jack, but it's the characterisation of Dan (Sanders) which sums up the limitations of Tumbleweeds. He's the nice, sensitive, Shakespeare-quoting guy at the office, and who offers Mary Jo his friendship. And, predictably, the resolution offers a pat explanation for his behaviour. A bit more edge would have been welcome here - and with the whole movie.
Will this mother-daughter road movie reach the parts that Anywhere But Here failed to access? Perhaps, but it is slightly underwhelming, rarely transcending the proficient. However, McTeer's performance justifies the advance superlatives.