Biddies Gone Wild!

sarris bonneville2h Biddies Gone Wild!BONNEVILLE
Running Time 93 minutes
Written by Daniel Davis
Directed by Christopher Rowley
Starring Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates and Joan Allen

Star power is very much in evidence in Bonneville, a pleasant, inconsequential trifle that’s been sitting on the shelf gathering dust for nearly two years. It was first unveiled at the 2006 Toronto Film Festival to very little fanfare, but the three stars made up for the lack of attention with reams of chummy photo ops. They are Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates and Joan Allen, and the talent factor is self-evident. The importance of the film itself is somewhat less so.

Helmed by Christopher Rowley, making his feature film debut, Bonneville is a character piece not unlike an old Ladies Home Journal short story. It follows three Mormon ladies from Pocatello, Idaho, on a cross-country road trip to California in a vintage Pontiac Bonneville convertible. After her husband Joe dies on a trip to Borneo, Arvilla (Lange) has his ashes shipped home, but while she’s still in shock, her mourning is interrupted by the awful, mean-spirited daughter from Joe’s first marriage, a pickle named Francine (played with her usual acid-reflux scowl by Christine Baranski). Francine demands that her father’s remains be buried next to his first wife in the family plot in Santa Barbara, and threatens to sell the house Joe and Arvilla lived in for their entire married life right out from under her. Since Arvilla cannot find Joe’s last will and testament, she doesn’t know what to do, what she has inherited or what her legal rights are. So poor, befuddled Arvilla scoops up Joe’s remains, plus her two best gal pals, Margene (Bates) and Carol (Allen), and hits the road in her old convertible. Their pilgrimage of self-discovery transforms them all.

They have a flat tire in the Utah salt flats. In Vegas, morally self-righteous Carol drinks vodka and wins triple at the slots, yelling “Oh, my heck!” Crusty, salty Margene finds her own excitement with a truck driver (Tom Skerritt) who buys them dinner and then provides the kind of sexy all-night adventure she has only read about in Barbara Cartland novels. And Arvilla finds joy in the memories of the past instead of regret. More important, they each find something inside themselves they didn’t know was there, and best of all, they discover the value of trust, laughter, friendship and female bonding.

Open the big cinema floodgates and Bonneville is just a trickle of Poland Spring, but the trio of ladies are always watchable; they seem to actually enjoy each other unselfishly and without reservation (nobody hogs the camera); and the script by Daniel Davis is full of warmth, tears and humorous zingers. It’s a chick flick for senior chicks.