Bonneville Movie Review
By Prairie Miller
A female buddy road movie in a flight both from and across America, Bonneville is less Thelma & Louise, the (death-defying) sequel nearly two decades later, than the same sort of women in their formative years back then, possibly inspired by that tale of breaking free and letting loose in a very different time. And though Brad Pitt has moved far beyond that early sexcapade doing highway nomadic hunk duty for those sorts of liberation-in-progress ladies back in the day, the designated trucker at least has apparently come a long way babee, decidedly displaying less boorishness and far more chivalry.
But perhaps demonstrating more of a gift for conjuring emotion and affection between characters than organic storytelling, first time director Christopher Rowley conceives Bonneville as an episodic mood piece, unraveling around the tragic circumstances coursing through the life of Arvilla (Jessica Lange). She's a middle aged Idaho woman who is suddenly widowed and finds her world coming apart at the seams.
Joe, her late world adventurer husband of twenty years, had requested prior to his death that his ashes be scattered in the wilderness. But Francine (Christine Baranski), Joe's resentful adult daughter from his first marriage, demands possession of her father's ashes for burial next to her mother's grave, back in Santa Barbara. And that if Arvilla does not comply, Francine threatens to callously boot the distraught from the home the couple shared, apparently bequeathed to Francine in an old will drawn up prior to his marriage to Arvilla, that Joe neglected to update.
Wracked with a combination of indecision and emotionally crippling grief, Arvilla first refuses then agrees to transport the ashes herself cross-country, in time for the arranged funeral. And Arvilla impulsively grabs her two puzzled best friends to come along for the ride - gabby, man-hungry longtime widow Margene (Kathy Bates) and prim, sheltered devout Mormon housewife, Carol (Joan Allen).
There's a whole menu of surprises in store for the giddy vagabonds, both to the delight and periodic dismay of Arvilla's very loyal and protective girlfriends. Which happen to include an excellent adventure through breathtaking pristine landscapes via Arvilla's resurrected old '66 Bonneville convertible; repeated chance encounters along the way with a gentlemanly if flirty trucker who's got his eye on Margene; a pit stop in Vegas where more than a bit of luck at the slot machines encourages Carol to lighten up considerably; and a little mischief in the making on the part of Arvilla, to possibly free Joe's ashes on the sly in keeping with his wishes.
Bonneville needed to get a better grip on the destination of its scattered narrative, along with the itinerary of the actual journey. Though these three gifted veteran actresses convey such collective warmth, energy and class through their performances, that the sheer pleasure of Bonneville is simply watching them work their magic on the movie.
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