It's friendship, dead loved ones, and menopausal mischief in "Bonneville," an awfully thin dramedy that benefits from an impressive cast pushing their hardest to wring a little charm out of the withered premise.
Arvilla (Jessica Lange) has just lost her husband, and her step-daughter (Christine Baranski) is ready to steal away the estate and the ashes of her late father. Upset, Arvilla turns to her friends Carol (Joan Allen) and sassy Margene (Kathy Bates) for comfort, suddenly deciding on a road trip to attend the family funeral service. Taking her husband's Bonneville, the ladies hit the interstate, stopping along the way to mourn the loss of a loved one and embark on little adventures of romance (Tom Skeritt) and bonding.
"Bonneville" is a very easy sit. It's designed that way: a colorless, pseudo-spiritual tear-jerker looking for mainstream appeal with its board game of comical road trip set-backs and interstate enlightenment. However, this is where A-list actresses come in handy, and the trio of Lange, Allen, and Bates help hold "Bonneville" away from the fiery pits of formula.
It's not an easy task, what with the string of goofy subplots and slapstick misadventures arranged for the ladies in the script by Daniel D. Davis; he doesn't offer much to chew on dramatically, but maintains an even pace, taking the action all over the American southwest to change the scenery and drum up fresh conflicts. The cast takes over from there, especially Jessica Lange, who uses her peculiar screen presence to heartfelt ends in the picture, cooing around absolutely lost and unable to let go of the past. Lange hasn't had a role like this in ages and her performance attacks the material from unusual angles, resulting in effective scenes of despair and frustration.
Bates and Allen are the support team for "Bonneville" and the comic relief. While Allen is subjected to the uptight religious ghoul role (she pulls it off), Bates has more fun as the smartass who pushes Arvilla to open up. Unexpectedly, Bates is the only character with a love interest, played with affable three-beer, gee-whiz charm by Skeritt. They make a more entertaining couple than you might think, but the picture doesn't take nearly enough time to flesh out their characters.
As "Bonneville" bounces from location to location (Grand Canyon, Bonneville Salt Flats, Las Vegas) the comfort of the movie grows and if you can't quite feel for the characters, the actresses make certain you understand their motivations and quirks. It helps "Bonneville" step away from Lifetime Television treacle into something palatable. Perhaps even charming.
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