Tumbleweeds Review

Mark Boydell has reviewed the Region 1 release of Tumbleweeds – an interesting film about a Southern woman (McTeer) constantly running after and away from men, dragging her long-suffering teenage daughter along. This film picked up an Oscar nomination and a Golden Globe for McTeer and explores the interesting bond that unites the mother and daughter and their dysfunctional lives.

The story:
Mary Jo (Janet McTeer) has just left her fourth husband and is heading out west with her 12 year-old daughter Ava (Kinberly J. Brown) in tow. They eventually end up in California where they both start getting back to “normal” – Ava enjoying the ocean and her new school mates whilst her mother starts persuing husband number five in the form of Jack Ranson (the director/co-writer Gavin O’Connor). Ava, tired of constantly having to put up with her mother’s poor choice of men, is wary of this new relationship that she can already see failing but is her mother likely to heed her calls for caution? Is this one really going to be different or are they going to wind up on the road again within the next few months?

Although other films have treated this type of theme recently (John Sayles’ Limbo springing to mind), Tumbleweeds finds its own tone and voice within the first half hour despite at times treading a fine line between realism and Hollywood schmaltz. The casting of McTeer as Mary Jo was truely inspired – despite being a British actress, she pulls off the role of the slightly naive “southern gal” convincingly, winning her a Golden globe and even an Oscar nomination in the wake. Brown is fantastic as the long-suffering daughter and plays the role naturally and with a simplicity I can seldom remember from child actors. The film, although resolutely low-budget, managed to get itself a wider release by winning the Filmmakers Trophy for Drama at the Sundance film festival in 1999 and received a limited UK release.

The DVD:
The image:
Before starting to watch the film you get offered the choice between the widescreen or the full screen version. Despite the illustrating images giving you the impression that the widescreen version will give you more picture, the full screen transfer is in fact open-matte meaning that you’ll get more picture from this transfer than from the widescreen transfer which is simply cropped at the top and the bottom. The widescreen transfer is anamorphic though so the best choice for those with widescreen TVs and for those who’d rather watch the film in the original cinema ratio.
Although the colours seem a bit washed out in the first twenty minutes of the film, the colours are very vibrant and quite beautiful when they arrive in California. Most of the film was filmed on steadicam so the focussing is not necessarily always spot on but that’s more the director’s choice than an image defect. The image is a bit grainy at times and some minor artifacting is visible but really this is quite a good transfer.

The sound:
The soundtrack is the original 2.0 DD track. A 5.1 remix would have been absolutely pointless and this soundtrack is more than enough for such a dialogue based film. I did find it to be slightly saturated at certain points but the occurences were rare and it didn’t really impede on my enjoyment of the film.

The menus:
These are basic and unanimated. The background images are made up from stills from the film. Nothing special but they do their job correctly.

The extras:
These are notably greater than what was made available on the R2 release (and the reason I chose the R1). The standard cast and crew filmographies are available (credit of imdb.com!) and also the US trailer, in an anamorphic transfer. What is also worth noting is that the trailer seems to have been encoded with more care than I often see on DVD releases – a far sight from the usual third rate jobs I’ve seen.
Added to this is the director’s commentary by Gavin O’Connor – he manages to talk almost all the way through the film with no painful silences and he reveals a great deal of information about the making of the film, the original screenplay and other interesting facts and events surrouding the film (such as McTeer’s foul mouth mortifying Brown on the first day of shooting). Definately worthwhile listening to..
To finish with we have my usual pet dread: DVD-rom features. From experience they equate to studios shoving adverts in your face for very little added value… This time however they are quite decent (although the supplied program – the ironically named PCfriendly – has a tendency to crash my PC): they offer you the entire script that can be printed out or viewed alongside the film and the original website – a mine of information on the film for those who don’t want to listen to the commentary. One problem with the website is that the back buttons don’t work properly and force you to reload the entire flash intro over again… Very irritating on the long run!

This DVD was a surprisingly decent release for a good small budget film. The transfer is problem free and of pretty good quality whereas the extras go far beyond the bare bones R2 release (which only had the trailer as an extra) so for those who are not PAL-only addicts this is without doubt the best release to go for.

Mark Boydell

Updated: Oct 21, 2001

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