It's a Lange Trip for Bates and Allen
"Bonneville" sounds like one of those movies which you would expect to crop up on Hallmark in the afternoon with its tale of a widow and her two friends going on a road trip where they deal with various issues whilst scattering the ashes of the dearly departed loved one at important places along the way. It certainly wouldn't feel out of place pitched up against a variety of other sentimental TV movies but there is one big difference between "Bonneville" and the usual movie which turns up on TV in the afternoon and that is the calibre of its stars. Kathy Bates, Jessica Lange and Joan Allen all star in the pivotal roles and then there is Tom Skerritt, Christine Baranski and Tom Amandes in supporting roles and it is these stars who lift "Bonneville" into being more impressive than you expect.
Following the death of her husband Joe, Avrilla (Jessica Lange) follows his wishes and has him cremated much to the annoyance of her step daughter Francine (Christine Baranski - The Grinch) who not only demands that her father's ashes be buried alongside her mother but that Avrilla vacates her home. With no choice but to agree to let Francine have the ashes Avrilla and her friends Carol (Joan Allen - The Bourne Supremacy) and Margene (Kathy Bates - Failure to Launch) take Joe's Bonneville and head for the road to make the journey down to Francine's, along the way dealing with their emotional issues and for one finding a bit of romance with Emmett (Tom Skerritt - Steel Magnolias) a charming big rig driver.
On one hand "Bonneville" is a seriously unoriginal movie, or at least in what happens. Get past the set up where you have the obnoxious Francine demanding that not only her father's ashes be buried next to her mother but Avrilla chose between doing as she says or loosing her home and "Bonneville" quickly turns into a road trip movie. And as such whilst the novelty of 3 older women hitting the road and taking in the sights is pleasant the actual journey is quite unoriginal well when it starts with a flat tire in the middle of nowhere it's not exactly breaking boundaries. Yes it's a different angle to it, the humour of the mishaps is toned down, in fact the number of mishaps is toned down as well but there is very little too surprise you on this journey, even the romance which expectedly blossoms between Margene and big rig driver Emmett is sign-posted.
And when you don't have the road trip element to "Bonneville" you get the sentimental side of the story as through that initial mishap Avrilla decides that as they journey to Francine she will scatter some of her husband's ashes at important places they had shared. It's all a bit sugary and to be honest too manipulative as we watch Avrilla have those quite moments of reminiscing as she scatters another handful of ashes. And whilst the actual final payoff is a humorous one it just feels that director Christopher N. Rowley is trying to hard to pull at your heart strings. The same can be said about the subplots which feature Margene finding love with Emmett and their uptight friend Carol learning to let go a bit. It's all a little too forced and whilst it has some charm it just doesn't feel natural.
Having said that Christopher N. Rowley certainly has an eye for a stunning location and a great camera shot. I lost count at the number of times the landscape took my breath away and watching Avrilla silhouetted by a sunset is simply one of the most beautiful images I have seen on screen in a while. In fact it is the stunning shots which will end up staying with you much longer than the actual movie because whilst it's entertaining it's not that memorable.
The saving grace is that "Bonneville" does have an impressive cast and Kathy Bates, Jessica Lange as well as Joan Allen put in strong performances. Each of them shines individually especially Bates who has fun playing the flirtatious Margene but it is the banter which flies between them which is more impressive. In a movie when so much feels forced the way they come across as friends delivers a naturalness which makes some of the emotional scenes and many of the humorous scenes work. Bates, Lange and Allen are not alone as Tom Skerritt is just as good as Emmett and Christine Baranski delivers snobbish and vile quite brilliantly even if the character is intentionally a little over the top.
What this all boils down to is that "Bonneville" feels exactly like any other sentimental movie which gets shown in the afternoon, it is sweet, charming and often gently amusing but at the same time it is also forced. The difference is that the ability and calibre of the stars help to lift what could have been just another routine sentimental tale. They make it work and make it enjoyable especially Kathy Bates, Jessica Lange and Joan Allen who display a naturalness between them.