Arvilla Holden (Jessica Lange) has been living in Pocatello, Idaho, in the same house for the past 20 years. Her husband died recently and apparently had not changed his will to include Arvilla. So the house, along with the rest of his estate, is to go to his daughter Francine (Christine Baranski) from his first marriage. If that isn't bad enough, this aggressive woman also wants Arvilla to give her the urn with her father's ashes so he can be laid to rest in the family plot in Santa Barbara, California. Arvilla resists, saying that she promised him she would scatter his ashes.
Confused about what to do, Arvilla meets with her two best friends, Margene Cunningham (Kathy Bates), a single former teacher, and Carol Brim (Joan Allen), a pious Mormon who is subservient to her husband and a devoted church-goer. She invites them to accompany her on the journey to Santa Barbara and the next day picks them up in her vintage '66 Bonneville convertible. She has purchased scarves and sunglasses for them and is excited about the trip. Much to their surprise, Arvilla zips past the airport in Salt Lake City and announces that she has decided to drive to California through some of the places where she and her husband spent special times together.
Arvilla discovers that the best way of grieving her husband, planned or not, is to keep her promise to spread his ashes in the world he so loved and cherished. The trip to California becomes a pilgrimage for her as she recalls fond memories and lets go of the past. On the road, the three women meet a young hitchhiker (Victor Rasuk) who is making an effort to contact the father he never knew. A middle-aged trucker (Tom Skerritt) takes them out to dinner in Las Vegas and romances Margene, who is not expecting this kind of attention. Carol feels uncomfortable most of the journey since she misses the routines and rituals of her life at home. She doesn't know how to relax and is constantly challenging Arvilla's repeated detours. She is decked by a surprise in Las Vegas that loosens her up a bit.
Christopher N. Rowley directs Bonneville from a screenplay by Daniel D. Davis. Baby Boomers ought to identify with the characters and the storyline since so few movies these days focus on the over-40 experience. It is a delight to watch Lange, Bates, and Allen open to the adventures of the road. The scenery is appealing in the Idaho's Salt Flats and Utah's Bryce Canyon and Lake Powell. But the two best things about Bonneville are watching Arvilla deal with her memories and seeing these three friends deepen their friendship during this journey.
Special DVD features include behind-the-scenes; alternate and deleted scenes; and a gag reel.