Senart Films
Carol (Joan Allen) and Margene (Kathy Bates) in "Bonneville."</I>
BONNEVILLE — *** — Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates, Joan Allen; rated PG (mild profanity, vulgarity, violence)

Like an aging vehicle on a lengthy road trip, "Bonneville" starts with fits and spurts, stalls out a couple times and is forced to run on fumes at one point.

Furthering the automotive theme, this character-heavy comedy-drama becomes lost along the way and gets stranded.

These all might be insurmountable problems. But the film is smart enough to tell its story with more honesty than many others of its kind — "The Bucket List," for example. And it features a terrific cast of middle-aged actors.

Jessica Lange stars as Arvilla Holden, an Idaho woman who's just lost the love of her life. And now she stands to lose much more.

Arvilla's husband has left everything to his daughter, Francine (Christine Baranski). And she is threatening to take away the couple's house if Arvilla doesn't allow her husband's remains to be buried in California.

It's a long trip to Santa Barbara. But rather than take a jet, Arvilla opts to take to the road in a classic car (which is partly where the film's title originates).

And for strength and support, she takes her best friends, the free-spirited Margene (Kathy Bates) and the more conservative Carol (Joan Allen), along for the ride.

First-time screenwriter Daniel D. Davis' tale goes almost exactly where you'd expect. The three women encounter weirdness and kindness in equal measures, from a helpful hitchhiker (Victor Rasuk) and a truck driver (Tom Skerritt) with an eye for Margene.

Also, audiences may have quibbles with some of the character depictions, especially since the three friends are all supposed to be LDS. It is noted early on that only Allen's Carol is really very devout and faithful.

But director Christopher N. Rowley and his camera crews are smart enough to make use of the scenic locations — which include the Bonneville Salt Flats, various Salt Lake spots and Las Vegas.

Still, it's the three leads who really make this material work. Lange is very sympathetic and relatable as Arvilla, while Bates injects some needed humor. And Allen is pitch-perfect as usual, as the film's moral center of sorts.

"Bonneville" is rated PG for scattered mild profanity (religiously based) and other suggestive language, as well as some brief violence (a scuffle, including violence against women). Running time: 93 minutes.