I had three good reasons to watch Bonneville. First I read in the description that is I about three women, who travel to Santa Barbara. Having spent two good years there I was eager to see more, so I inflicted a temporary folly on myself and equated “traveling to” with “being there.” Disappointment was inevitable: this is a road movie that shows nothing of the city Santa Barbara. The closing scene is set on a beach that might be there, but I could not identify it for sure. The other two reasons satisfied me though: both Jessica Lange and Kathy Bates acted to my, and I believe to their own, delight. The third actress was Joan Allen, whose name I did not recognize, but whose face was familiar (from The Notebook, The Contender, Pleasantville, The Crucible, Peggy Sue Got Married and the Bourne series.) She has such a strict-looking face that roles of passive-aggressive people suit her rather well.
Here she was the most suppressed and orthodox from the three friends. Suppressed in terms, of not letting her emotions reign free and orthodox in terms of level of adherence to her Mormon faith. By the end of the movie she lets up in both areas and it is good for her. The movie is still not an anti-church one as it does not take an explicit stand of connecting LDS practices to unhealthy life, just implies it. It shows having fun as antithetical to being a Mormon. This depiction is only true if we view life through the lense of secular pleasures, where drinking, swearing, having sex, gambling is defined as fun, while contemplating and following moral standards is not.
This however is not the main theme of the movie, just my side observation. The movie is more about the rediscovery of the shades of meanings of friendships. The three women are radically different, yet extremely loyal to each other. They laugh together, they fight together, but here they mostly travel together, carrying the ashes of one of the husbands from Idaho to Santa Barbara. Along the way bits of the ashes are scattered at places that were important in the couple’s life. By the time they get to the daughter on the coast … heh, you thought I would tell you. No way. (But you can guess anyway.)
Bates was the genuinely funny, the funniest I have ever seen her. Lange was spontaneous, musing and stoical. All three women played so well, that for their sake I am ready to forgive the slightly flat story line and boring directing. The movie was like a comfortable overcoat, no real surprises, but keeps you warm and fuzzy till the end.