Christopher Rowley and Daniel D. Davis' road movie about three women of a certain age in a sexy car is what THELMA & LOUISE (1991) would have been had the sexy young hitchhiker not been a light-fingered hustler, if the guy in the oversized truck had been an aw-shucks gent rather than a pig, and if the winding road to self-discovery and freedom hadn't ended, well, quite so permanently.
Widowed after 20 years of deeply fulfilling marriage, free-spirited Arvilla Holden (Jessica Lange) finds an ugly surprise awaiting her at the Pocatello, Idaho, home she shared with her late husband, Joe. A born adventurer who didn't always attend to the mundane details, Joe never got around to redoing his will, which means that the house will go to Francine (Christine Baranski), the tight-lipped, flawlessly polished daughter of his first marriage. But Francine is willing to bargain: If Arvilla will agree to have Joe's ashes interred in the Holden family plot in Santa Barbara, Francine will give her the house. Unfortunately, Arvilla swore to Joe that she'd scatter them –- he wanted to be "out in the world," she explains. Arvilla eventually agrees –- she's too old to start over. She and her best friends, straight-talking Margene (Kathy Bates) and prim-and-proper Carol (Joan Allen), pile into Joe's lovingly maintained, cherry-red 1966 Pontiac Bonneville convertible, supposedly for a short trip to Salt Lake City airport. But Arvilla has a secret agenda, and before they know it her friends are taking a wild ride down the open highway. The fellow travelers whose paths cross theirs include a gentle young man (Victor Rasuk) looking for the father he never knew, a widowed truck driver (Tom Skerritt) with a gallant streak as wide as his smile, and some larcenous white trash who fail to get the better of the three increasingly revitalized women.
Burdened with obvious voice-over narration (in the form of Arvilla's explanatory letter to Francine –- and explanation is called for after the fiasco of Joe's funeral) and graced with stunning locations that range from the eerie Bonneville Salt Flats to Joshua Tree, the film is clearly designed as a celebration of older women. So it's a shame that it's such predictable pablum, full of easy lessons and obvious sentiment. The prodigiously talented Allen, Bates and Lange give it their all, but there's a limit to what even they can do with platitudes and prefabricated homilies. leave a comment --Maitland McDonagh