Judge Clark Douglas thinks taking a loved one's ashes along with you on a wild road trip is a bad idea.
Three women. One car. A bunch of ashes.
"Oh, I'm sure that Joe would have found all of this very funny."
Facts of the Case
Lately, times have been hard for Arvilla (Jessica Lange, Big Fish). She's suffering from the loss of her husband Joe, and now her daughter (Christine Baranski, RV) is threatening to sell Arvilla's home (this is due to an odd situation involving a lost will). Arvilla is simply heartbroken and is nothing short of an emotional mess. Did I just hear someone say "road trip time!"? Huh? Huh? Regardless, Arvilla is hopping in Joe's restored Bonneville and hitting the road, and she's taking a few friends with her. The restrained and graceful Carol (Joan Allen, Nixon), the wild and crazy Margene (Kathy Bates, Six Feet Under), and yes, an urn filled with Joe's ashes. Along the way, there's going to be wacky antics, surprising romance, and plenty of heart-to-heart conversations. Anybody want to join the ride? Huh? Huh?
There really aren't many good roles available for actresses over the age of 40. It's a real shame when such fine actresses as Joan Allen, Kathy Bates, and Jessica Lange can't consistently find good work. So, it's exciting to see this group of actresses getting the opportunity to play the lead roles in a film. It's also immensely disappointing to discover that Bonneville is a tired old bag of clichés. The film is cynical in a certain way, using the tragedy of losing a loved one as a rather unconvincing springboard for a silly road trip chick flick. I hate using the word "chick flick" for a film starring these three actresses, but that's exactly what this is. The film often plays as if it were adapted from a magazine on a grocery store rack.
The characters are pretty thin stereotypes. Bates and Allen have been typecast in their roles. Allen is cast in the role of the conservative, religious, uptight friend. She never swears, never drinks coffee (much less alcohol), never gambles, and never messes with men she isn't married to. She exists so that the film can get a giggle each time she works up the nerve to do one of these things. Bates is cast in the role of the liberal, free-spirited, man-hungry friend. She does all the things that Allen doesn't do, which gets giggles while Allen is still behaving with restraint. Meanwhile, Jessica Lange never manages to find the right tone for her character. She's forced to move from deeply wounded to wacky in a matter of moments, and she also delivers some rather awkward monologues to her husband's urn. This film's idea of a dramatic resolution is Jessica Lange learning to throw away her cell phone instead of answering when annoying people call.
The film could have gone in a lot of different directions, any of which might have worked well enough on their own. However, by trying to go every direction at once, Bonneville rips apart at the seams. The early dramatic moments are effective, but afterwards every scene both dramatic and otherwise feels awkward due to whatever has preceded it. Several needless subplots are shoehorned in, as well. One of these involves a young male hitchhiker that the three women determine to pick up. He takes off his shirt, washes their car, has lunch with them, chats with them for a while, gives them his iPod out of generosity, and leaves. Why is this included? Seemingly just so these middle-aged women can have an excuse to have an iPod loaded with hip tunes that will add some energy to the soundtrack.
There's another subplot involving Tom Skerritt (Alien) as a truck driver. The women see him on the road, Bates hoots and hollers at him, and that is that. Then he turns up again later on, and invites the ladies to lunch. They decline, but he shows up again in Las Vegas. I was certainly thinking "hmm, he's a psycho stalker guy," but that is not the case. He's a sweet, good-mannered, sensitive, intelligent man who just so happens to be sporting a tragic story about the time the only girl he ever loved passed away. Also, he's hot for Kathy Bates. This story seems to build and build but never reaches much of a satisfying resolution.
The worst moments in the film are the wacky comedic scenes. The women actually have a big scratching-n-clawing battle with a crazy redneck couple over a purse. Yes, that scene is every bit as bad as it sounds. At one point in the film, one character tells another to "be sure that nothing happens to those ashes." How long do you think it will be before some sort of goofy accident occurs that causes the ashes to go flying all over the place?
The DVD transfer is not particularly good on the disc that I received. I say that because I received a screener disc that may or may not be exactly the same as the disc being sold in stores. Anyway, it appears to be interlaced on this disc, which is definitely not cool. Long shots are occasionally just plain painful to look at. My wife is hardly a videophile, but she entered the room while the film was playing and exclaimed, "Yikes, what an ugly transfer!" Flesh tones occasionally seem a little off, too. Sound is fine, with a limited amount of sound design mixed in with Jeff Cardoni's score (which runs from silly to sensitive right along with the film).
As far as extras are concerned, what's here is pretty lightweight stuff. There's a ho-hum 11-minute featurette that features unconvincing justifications of the film by all three actresses. There are 13 minutes of deleted/alternate scenes, the most interesting of which are alternate opening and closing sequences. A one-minute gag reel is over much too quickly, and a promo for The Red Hat Society is…random. Overall, this is a pretty weak batch of supplements. On the positive side, they receive a stronger transfer than the film itself.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
In the film's defense, it must be said that Bonneville is not particularly unpleasant to spend time with. Even if they're playing uninteresting roles, the three actresses are quite talented individuals, and occasionally provide a spark of interest here and there.
This is one road trip to avoid. Here's hoping that those involved with the film are given better material to work with in the future.
Bonneville is guilty of wasting three talented actresses in the
service of a pathetic plot.
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Scales of Justice
• "The Making of Bonneville"
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