After an explosive bust-up with yet another dead-loss boyfriend, Southern blonde Mary Jo Walker (McTeer) hits the road again with her more balanced 12 year-old daughter, Ava (Brown). The pair go as far as they can in America, and set down in the Californian community of Starlight Beach, where Mary Jo swiftly picks up an office job and a trucker boyfriend Jack (O'Connor), and Ava fits in at school. Then, as before, Mary Jo and Jack start having rows, and Ava wonders if they'll have to use the escape route she has, as usual, prepared from Jack's house.
Based on an autobiographical memoir by co-writer Angela Shelton, this starts out as a road movie but quickly runs into the Pacific Ocean and puts down roots. Though it has the look and some of the character quirkiness of late 60s/early 70s "rebel" pictures, the message is different: though we're expected to love the eccentric mom, we identify with the kid who wants to have a "normal" life. These days there are limits, which makes for a happier ending than Easy Rider or Five Easy Pieces, but also pens the supposedly unconventional characters in little boxes.
Yet the film works because the characters are played by an unfamiliar but outstanding cast. British stage star McTeer gets her first major film role and displays a great deal of affecting, amusing and exasperating charisma, while Kimberly J. Brown is a rare child actress who pulls off precociousness without seeming like a shrunken adult. It's a decent little movie, with all manner of nice bits of business - and a slightly too-evident heart.