Written and Directed by Shana Feste.
Starring Vera Farmiga, Christopher Plummer, Lewis MacDougall, Bobby Cannavale, Kristen Schaal, Christopher Lloyd, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Dolly Wells, Glenn Beck, Elizabeth Bowen, and Peter Fonda
Laura and her son Henry are forced to drive her estranged, pot-dealing, carefree father Jack across country after being kicked out of a nursing home.
Boundaries isn’t a movie about second chances, it’s message is that the ones closest to us, especially family, should be given repeated opportunities at change (with a reasonable amount of time between screw-ups), with the understanding that they still might not better themselves, prompting us to make a judgment call on whether we want them around or not. Sony Pictures Classics offered critics a screening link for the film, so after enjoying watching it from a rather large laptop screen, I felt encouraged to watch it again since a theatrical press screening featuring a Q&A with actor Lewis MacDougall and writer/director Shana Feste was added. That may seem like an unnecessary detail to reveal, but 1: the movie is funnier and more moving with a crowd, so purchase a ticket and support independent cinema and 2: I had no idea the script was semi-autobiographical, which adds a layer of realism and empathy to the narrative.
Shana Feste mentioned that her own father (unfortunately, he passed away last June and did not get to see the film) was a drug dealer in and out of prison, much like the sardonic, family abandoning, disappointment Jack (Christopher Plummer), and that Vera Farmiga (known for The Departed and The Conjuring movies, turning in another fantastic performance here and one that is grounded in the lingering psychological effects of emotional abuse) ended up her muse on what resulted in a very cathartic production for the filmmaker along with her immediate family members. More importantly, while answering a question she politely asked the audience not to judge her father for his unsavory behavior. Likewise, Boundaries never once judges this mischievous elderly being, who is more interested in smuggling drugs across the country disguised as a family bonding road trip put into motion after finally being kicked out of a nursing home for disrupting antics.
Laura (Vera Farmiga) wants nothing to do with her father; she refuses to answer an incoming phone call from him at the request of her therapist, but after her socially abnormal son Henry (the immensely talented and young Lewis MacDougall who a short few years ago was a powerhouse revelation in A Monster Calls, one of the best movies of the decade so far) is expelled for his inexplicable fascination with drawing nude sketches of various people around him. she reluctantly gives in and agrees to get him out of his jam by driving him across the country to live with her slightly less damaged sister Jojo (Kristen Schaal).
What follows is a road trip that takes on an episodic format; there are numerous pitstops along the way ranging from visiting Jack’s equally shady longtime pals (one of which is played all-time great Christopher Lloyd), Laura’s husband (Bobby Cannavale) who abandoned her and her son just like her father, and more. Naturally, all of these segments vary in their effectiveness, but Boundaries works best when the characters are driving down the highway and forced to interact with one another, whether it’s letting out baggage or healing old wounds and coming closer once again. Although, it has to be mentioned that some of the pitstops near the end of the movie start to extend the length of the film about 15 minutes too long, with one especially standing out as worthy of being cut entirely.
Enough about that though; it’s time to talk about dogs. Why dogs? Well, Laura has a pure heart and loves to rescue as many as she can find, to the point where her home contains nine, some of which require special attention such as medication and shots. Not only is there some charming humor mined from this hobby, it also serves as a moving reminder of how loving animals are and why human beings suffering from emotional trauma often turn to them for consolation and friendship (she appears to have trust issues considering she is hesitant to go on a date with a very friendly and well-intentioned co-worker played by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II. Now to answer the only question that matters: yes, the dogs are adorable and you will fall in love with them. Even Christopher Plummer’s cranky ass can’t help but save one. At one point a character states that saving a human being is difficult, and in addition to working as a nice juxtaposition to animal rescuing (which, by the way, is another autobiographical element incorporated into the story) it’s a sentiment felt watching Boundaries.
The direction the plot goes isn’t exactly surprising (sometimes it can feel too convenient, such as Laura’s ex-husband placing a big order on the weed from Jack), but it’s warmhearted fun that highlights the importance of family, multiple chances, and accepting who your relatives for the flawed individuals they might be. Vera Farmiga is a delight as this wronged and mentally struggling mother with love for both her son and endless amounts of dogs, Christopher Plummer gets to crack numerous hilarious one-liners that feel ripped from a sitcom in its prime, and Lewis MacDougall is the troubled but endearing center that unites the bickering two. For all his oddball and graphic artistic expression, he still has a radiant innocence capable of forgiveness for the right people (I suppose you could also call him naïve, but it should be noted he is not as easy going on his father) that we should all imitate.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, friend me on Facebook, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, check out my personal non-Flickering Myth affiliated Patreon, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com