Monday, January 19, 2015

Bonneville

3/4

Starring: Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates, Joan Allen, Christine Baranski, Tom Skeritt

Rated PG for Some Mild Language and Innuendo

"Bonneville" will probably work best for relatively conservative, middle-aged women.  That's who the film is about, after all.  The film's comedy is decidedly low-key and content not to push the boundaries.  In fact, it's so lacking in edge that it is only the talent of the three actresses that wrings any humor from it (I was thinking of Ned Flanders line: "It's just the kind of surprise I like...mild!" Only Flanders could make that line funny).

Joe Holden has just died.  His widow, Arvilla (Lange), is naturally devastated, all the more so when her step-daughter Francine (Baranski) forces her to make an impossible choice: deliver the ashes of the travel-loving Joe to be laid next to his first wife in Santa Barbara, CA, or face the loss of the house that he shared with Arvilla for the past 20 years.  Arvilla can't find the new will he created when Joe married her, so she has resigned to giving the ashes to Francine.  Going along for the ride are her two best friends, outspoken Margene (Bates) and tightly-wound Carol (Allen).  The trip doesn't turn out the way they expect.

"Bonneville" is a formula road picture featuring no real surprises.  That's okay.  Character development is strong enough that we see Arvilla, Margene and Carol as more than characters, and they're being portrayed by three of the best actresses working today.  I don't have many complaints.

What's interesting about this film is it's conservative bent.  Hollywood is famous for its leftist leanings, and movies these days that feature right-leaning characters are few (those that aren't imitating Frank Capra at least).  That's not to say that "Bonneville" isn't political.  Far from it, in fact.  It's just the way they act, and while there are a few moments that go a little over-the-top, it's kind of refreshing to see a movie a movie where the one of the central characters is embarrassed for swearing.

Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates and Joan Allen are some of the most versatile actresses in Hollywood.  Unfortunately if you're over 50 and not named Meryl Streep, that can make it difficult to find work.  It's a shame because they're almost always worth seeing on-screen, even in bad movies.  Jessica Lange ably conveys the deep love she felt for her late husband.  Since this is central to the plot, the film would have been more or less sunk had Lange not succeeded.  Kathy Bates has some funny moments as the anti-PC (relatively speaking) Margene.  "I guess I've always had a problem with authority figures," she says at one point, although that's limited to drinking coffee (they're all Mormons) and being open about sex education.  And it's fun to see Joan Allen, who by her own admission usually plays tightly wound individuals, let her hair down.  Again, that's relatively speaking.  Christine Baranski makes it easy to hate her without turning into a caricature (which she usually does, although in such cases that's what's desired).  Tom Skerritt (as a friendly trucker) and Victor Rasuk (as a studly hitchhiker) have small appearances.

"Bonneville" isn't an excellent film, or even an especially memorable one.  Even at 93 minutes, it's a little too long, and the script, while written with insight for character, lacks real depth.  Still, if you're looking for some undemanding entertainment, this is a solid choice.

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