A bit of an unstable, impulsive white trash type woman with a history of falling for and marrying bad boy types takes to the road with her adolescent daughter when her current husband gets too controlling. They end up in California, where they soon move in with yet another boyfriend, a trucker who seems like maybe a more decent human being than she typically picks.
Tumbleweeds explores the mother-daughter relationship, the way the woman in some ways is loving and caring and a good parent, and in some ways is irresponsible in dragging her daughter around while she makes dubious boyfriend and husband choices and then moves on to another city when things don’t work out. The daughter sometimes is supportive and loving toward her mother, and sometimes is disapproving toward her and fed up. Clearly each is the most important person in the other’s life and they have a close bond, but at times it’s a rocky relationship as well.
What the movie maybe made me think about the most, even more than the mother-daughter relationship, is what it says about male behavior, at least males of a certain socioeconomic class.
Even when they don’t physically beat her, there’s that sense that the guys she’s with operate under a certain paradigm of male behavior, that the male is the head of the household, that the closer a relationship becomes, especially once it gets to a live-in arrangement or marriage, the more it becomes the male’s prerogative and obligation to keep his woman and kids in line.
You see it even in the trucker. He’s not an ogre by a long shot. (Even the husband at the start of the movie isn’t depicted as being blatantly, physically abusive. More just threatening and full of intimidating bluster.) But there’s still that sense that he’s operating with the same set of assumptions as the other macho working class types, that as a man he’s entitled to put his foot down and take charge of the relationship in a way that would not be acceptable from a woman.
But overall I just never got into this movie more than a little. The story is slow and not a whole lot happens. I never cared much about the two main characters. To me the movie never rises above the ordinary, and in the end is pretty forgettable.
What I thought about later is how this movie has a vaguely similar set up as This Boy’s Life, one of my favorite movies. This Boy’s Life’s about an impulsive, flawed mother and her son taking to the road, trying to make a life for themselves, falling in with a domineering male. So it’s a son rather than a daughter, and certainly the parallels aren’t perfect, but there’s a rough similarity in the storylines.
So this set up, this kind of story, has potential, as This Boy’s Life proves. It’s just that This Boy’s Life absolutely blows this movie out of the water. Everything about it is more vividly portrayed, more eventful, more psychologically and morally interesting, and better acted.
Tumbleweeds is pretty much a dud.