‘Boundaries’ Goes on Familiar Road Trip of Personal Dysfunction
“Boundaries” is a hymn for those stuck with misfit parents who insist on stubborn, dangerous behavior right into their elderly years. Director Shana Feste has taken her memories and crafted them into a road trip that feels like familiar territory in a genre about middle class woes. No family is perfect, some are more imperfect than others, “Boundaries” is about the latter. It’s a film of highs and lows.
Vera Farmiga plays Laura, who compulsively takes in stray dogs, feeling some sort of strange connection to the wandering animals. She is also constantly dealing with her troubled son Henry (Lewis MacDougall), who keeps getting in trouble at school, no less for drawing lewd and brutal pictures of his teachers. Another problem piles on when Laura’s father, Jack (Christopher Plummer) is evicted from his senior community home for selling marijuana. Jack calls and calls Laura until she finally answers, making it clear he has nowhere to go. Fighting against herself, Laura decides to take him in but only to drive him to California, so he can move in with her sister, JoJo (Kristen Schaal). The tradeoff is that Jack will pay for a special school for Henry. They hit the road in Jack’s beaten Rolls-Royce, bumping into old faces and memories along the way. But what Jack hasn’t told Laura is that he has a huge supply of weed to unload on clients, and he will cheerfully enlist Henry to be his assistant and partner.
“Boundaries” is a mix of charm and rehash. Because the cast is so good we buy into the characters. Farmiga is the absolute portrait of dysfunction. Her life is a never-ending swirl requiring her to juggle three problems at the same time. Christopher Plummer again displays his boundless talent, switching from the cold brutality of J.Paul Getty in “All the Money in the World” to a feisty, aged outlaw here. He is essentially that elderly character in the movies who has more spirit and daring than the younger prunes. There are some genuinely funny scenes where he pops open the trunk of the Rolls-Royce, showing Henry his stash, using street dealer talk with the kid to sell dope up and down the coast. The movie is a gallery of good actors playing recognizable personas. Bobby Cannavale appears as Leonard, Laura’s irresponsible ex who happens to be living alone the route of the road trip. He’s a loaf, but somehow manages to get her into bed. The most memorable supporting role is Peter Fonda as Joey, a wealthy Californian who plays comrade to Jack’s antics. Fonda has fun with the role, especially when he and Plummer get wasted at his mansion just before two gang bangers crash the place.
“Boundaries” can come across as feel-good formula, where eventually everyone will come to terms with their clunky family history and find a new understanding. But there is no denying that there is a personal touch here, confirmed by the director. “This was my father, he was a wildly charismatic man, married six times, had six kids,” explained Feste to Entertainment Voice recently when discussing the movie. “Women, dogs, children loved my father. But he was a troublemaker. He loved breaking the law. He trafficked marijuana, he went to Africa to dig for diamonds and smuggled them in the brim of his cowboy hat.” Feste’s commentary makes one wonder why she had to settle for making a film based on her father’s twilight years. Indeed, Plummer carries the movie with his overbearing sense of doing whatever you want. But Feste’s screenplay also has moments of brutal honesty, when Laura does confront Jack about how once you have children, doing your own thing isn’t so easy, and comes with consequences.
The other standout performance is Lewis MacDougall as Henry. He is the troubled kid every story like this usually requires, who doesn’t open up until he meets an adult, Jack, who stands apart from the other, law-abiding grownups. “In this first few days, Christopher would get to know me, I spent a lot of time with him early on. He’s a genuine, honest person, and very welcoming to me, he took me under his wing,” MacDougall recently told Entertainment Voice. “We are a lot alike in some ways. He’s stoic, and I think I’m stoic.” This sense of bonding comes across on the frame and makes the story work a little better than it would have with lesser actors.
“Boundaries” is not a bad film, and it isn’t necessarily a great one. It is a small, personal project that covers anxieties and moods we’ve seen explored many times before onscreen. If this is your kind of genre it might just be fulfilling, in particular because the cast works well. If you would rather not dwell anymore on this kind of dysfunction, then hitch another ride.
“Boundaries” releases June 22 in Los Angeles and New York, with more dates to follow.