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Though based on the memoirs of co-writer Angela Shelton, the fine character-driven melodrama Tumbleweeds could just as well be based on repeated viewing of Martin Scorsese's Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore, so familiar is its story of an impulsive, foul-mouthed mother who goes west with her skeptical, equally foul-mouthed kid. More recently, Anywhere But Here followed the same template, but Tumbleweeds is superior in almost every respect, fleshed out through acute observation, impeccable performances, and a refreshing lack of sentiment. Veteran stage actress Janet McTeer, who earned a Tony for playing the lead in Ibsen's A Doll's House, gives a full-barreled performance as a tough Southern woman with an uncanny knack for gravitating toward the wrong men. Her relationship cycle repeats itself so frequently that daughter Kimberly J. Brown devises escape routes from each of her many temporary homes. The film begins in medias res, as the two flee another bad situation and head for the California coast in search of a new life. Once they arrive, McTeer immediately hooks up with a hot-tempered trucker—brilliantly played by director Gavin O'Connor—which leaves her daughter disheartened to find their new life looking conspicuously like their old one. Tumbleweeds doesn't unfold in a particularly surprising fashion, nor does it offer anything along the lines of Alice's enlightened feminism, but it has a rich feeling for character and domestic detail that's become increasingly rare in American film. As other low-budget productions aim to break convention with forced eccentricity, O'Connor and his stellar cast stay within Lifetime-approved boundaries and distinguish themselves through subtle gestures and minutiae. Modest and affecting, Tumbleweeds nicely resuscitates a dead formula.