Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates, Joan Allen, Tom Skerritt, Victor Rasuk
Christopher N. Rowley
Daniel D. Davis
SenArt Films (Theatrical), 20th Century Fox (DVD)
Salvaged from mediocrity by its stellar cast, "Bonneville" played to a packed house during the final night of screenings at Indianapolis's 2007 Heartland Film Festival.
Starring Oscar winners Jessica Lange and Kathy Bates along with 3-time Oscar nominee Joan Allen, "Bonneville" is a predictable road/buddy flick that gets by almost exclusively on the immense talent of the three stars and their ability to create emotionally appealing characters out of first-time screenwriter Daniel D. Davis's paint-by-numbers script.
Lange stars as Arvilla, a grief-stricken middle-aged woman whose husband of 20 years has recently passed away. We quickly learn he never updated his will and, as a result, his daughter (an appropriately bitchy Christine Baranski) inherits the couple's house and is completely appalled when Arvilla honors her husband's wishes by having him cremated with plans to spread his ashes in a variety of locations significant to the couple.
Arvilla agrees to deliver the ashes to California for a memorial service after the daughter's promise that she can stay in the house, and Arvilla and her friends Margene (Kathy Bates) and Carol (Joan Allen) head off together to deliver the ashes.
Along the way, of course, Arvilla will have a change of heart and little by little will grieve and let go, quite literally, at each stop along the way. Likewise, Margene will re-discover love and Carol will loosen up and learn to loosen the ties that bind with her family back home.
"Bonneville" played quite well to its largely middle-aged crowd during the Heartland Film Festival, and much of the credit goes to the wonderful chemistry between the ladies and, as well, to Tom Skerritt, who shows up as a flirty truck driver who falls for Margene. Victor Rasuk, who also offered a nice supporting performance in this year's "Feel the Noise," turns in a touchingly sweet performance as a young hitchhiker who travels with the ladies for awhile as he searches for his father.
While many road flicks, such as "Thelma and Louise" and "Boys on the Side," find themselves dwelling on dramatic situations and character conflict, nothing particularly awfull ever happens in "Bonneville," with the exception of one attempted purse theft that is over quickly and largely played for laughs. First-time feature film director Christopher Rowley road flick isn't really about the road...it's about the three women who embark on the journey, their relationships and how the journey changes them.
While the trio's chemistry carries the film far, the chemistry alone can't hide that "Bonneville" is so intent on maintaining its warm and fuzzy feelings that Rowley doesn't take any chances or offer anything remotely fresh.
The basic plotline involving a healing journey originating in grief has been done several times recently from Cameron Crowe's "Elizabethtown" to last year's even lower budget indie "Eve of Understanding," an Alyson Shelton directed flick that used the ashes storyline to much greater effect.
DP Jeffrey Kimball's cinematography, especially when the film is set in the Bonneville Salt Flats, and Jeff Cardoni's original music accompanies the film nicely.
An Official Selection during the 2007 Heartland Film Festival, "Bonneville" is a solid, if not particularly fresh, film that celebrates the wonderful spirit of three women as they hit middle-age and deal with their changing lives and friendships. While its box-office prospects are modest at best, "Bonneville" is likely to be a popular rental once it arrives on DVD.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic