2018, R, 104 min. Directed by Shana Feste. Starring Vera Farmiga, Christopher Plummer, Lewis MacDougall, Christopher Lloyd, Kristen Schaal, Bobby Cannavale, Peter Fonda.
REVIEWED By Josh Kupecki, Fri., July 13, 2018
If you’re going to throw your hat into the ring of the “dysfunctional family road trip” arena, you had better come correct. This well-worn genre has its classics (National Lampoon’s Vacation), its droll indie upstarts (Little Miss Sunshine), and its Hollywood commodities (We're the Millers). Where writer/director Shana Feste’s Boundaries falls is somewhere between those latter two. It has moments of sly humor and decent pacing, but the continued narrative pileup of contrivances starts to wear thin. Feste, known for weepy dramedy The Greatest, and the Gwyneth Paltrow/Tim McGraw country music biz drama Country Strong, has crafted some interesting characters, I just wish they were in a better movie.
She has two things going for her here: Christopher Plummer, who bites deep into the scenery with a casual aplomb that is a joy to watch, and Vera Farmiga, who has basically cornered the market on addled mothers trying to keep their shit together. We meet Laura (Farmiga) at her therapist discussing issues involved in the film’s title, her issues with her absentee father Jack (Plummer). She also has a kitten in her purse, which becomes apparent as we return to her home to discover she is basically running an illegal veterinary hospital. All manner of creatures great and small abide with Laura and her son Henry (MacDougall), and most of them constantly need caring or medication. Elsewhere, Jack is getting evicted from his retirement home for secretly harboring a marijuana operation on the premises. Jack needs a place to live, but Laura refuses to take him in (irony!) and agrees to drive with him to her sister Jojo (Schaal) in California, so he can live with her. And off they go, with a carload of pets, and Jack’s stash of marijuana he plans to sell to his clients on the way.
The sun-drenched travelogue down the Pacific Coast Highway is a series of episodes of Jack meeting up with old friends (Lloyd and Fonda being the most memorable, naturally). He brings young Henry into his scheme, but they keep Laura out of the loop. A stop at Laura’s ex-husband Leonard (Cannavale) begins the third-act mark, and from there, it’s all airing dirty laundry and the exposing of secrets. Boundaries would be a lot more charming if it was anything remotely an organic story instead of being glued to a template. There are so many decisions Laura makes (the first of which is: Just let your dad move in with you!) that reduce her character to a clueless geek, but Farmiga gives it her all. These types of things can often be immersion-breaking, and they become a problem for the film. Still, Boundaries keeps the syrup on medium, and Plummer looks like he’s having a ball. If you have a penchant for broken wing syndrome, you may want to let this one into your life.