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MOM, DAUGHTER TUMBLE THROUGH LIFE.

Byline: Glenn Whipp Film Critic

A wild-child earth mother pulls up stakes and moves her precocious daughter across the country. The two fuss and feud, switch familial roles and, after enduring some hard times and rotten men, they eventually strike a truce and form a mutual appreciation society.

Sound familiar?

It should, to anyone who saw ``Anywhere but Here,'' Wayne Wang's well-intentioned road picture, earlier this month. That movie, starring Susan Sarandon and Natalie Portman, smoothed out the rough edges of Mona Simpson's searing novel to such a degree that the finished product barely registered.

It would be hard for a film to be any less involving.

That's not the case with the similarly themed ``Tumbleweeds,'' which takes the same premise and has the courage to run with it.

While the film doesn't stake out any territory that hasn't already been visited by, say, ``Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore,'' it does have a bawdy sense of humor, candid honesty and terrific performances in the lead roles.

And that's enough to make you want to take a trip with this mother-daughter team.

Well-regarded British stage actress Janet McTeer plays Mary Jo Walker, a Southern firecracker who tends to fall for, and quite often marry, whatever man crosses her line of vision.

The film's opening moments find Mary Jo and her 12-year-old daughter, Ava (Kimberly Brown), fleeing from the latest catastrophe and hitting the road, destination unknown.

Mary Jo is on the constant lookout for Prince Charming; her self worth is tied to her dating status. Ava has learned from her manic mom's mistakes and isn't afraid to question her when poor judgment is exercised - which is often the case.

The two relocate to Starlight Beach, a fictional coastal town north of San Diego.

Ava makes friends, finds a calling in her school's production of ``Romeo and Juliet'' and attracts the interest of a loopy classmate, Adam (Cody McMains), whose hairstyle becomes more unlikely each time we seem him.

Mary Jo, meanwhile, takes up with a trucker, Dan (the film's director and co-writer, Gavin O'Connor), whom she met on the road.

Mary Jo believes that this time she might have found the stability she has long craved, but it's apparent (to the audience, at least) that history has a way of repeating itself and that Mary Jo needs to learn a lesson or two before she can move on.

McTeer, displaying an expert ability to affect a North Carolina accent, oozes brassy charm and hits every right note in her demanding role. It's an electrifying turn.

Brown, best-known for her work on the soap opera ``Guiding Light,'' is equally good, imbuing her bright 12-year-old with an assured authenticity that never lapses into cutie-pie antics.

Some of the credit for that should go to the charming and touching screenplay, written by O'Connor and his ex-wife, Angela Shelton.

O'Connor, who cast himself apparently as a cost-cutting measure, shows a sure hand in the director's chair, making ``Tumbleweeds'' a kind of intimate family snapshot that we're lucky enough to glimpse.

The facts

The film: ``Tumbleweeds'' (PG-13; language and sensuality).

The stars: Janet McTeer, Kimberly Brown.

Behind the scenes: Directed by Gavin O'Connor. Screenplay by O'Connor and Angela Shelton. Released by Fine Line Pictures.

Running time: One hour, 40 minutes.

Playing: Cineplex Odeon Beverly Center in Los Angeles; Laemmle's Monica in Santa Monica; and Landmark's Westside Pavilion in West Los Angeles.

Our rating: Three stars.

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Photo

Photo: Mary Jo Walker stars as a brassy Southerner who marries frequently and, when things go wrong, takes off with her daughter, played by Kimberly Brown, left.
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Title Annotation:L.A. Life
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Article Type:Movie Review
Date:Nov 24, 1999
Words:599
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