Film Review: Boundaries

Comedic road-trip drama about the fractured relationship between a struggling single mother and her bad-boy elderly father—Christopher Plummer again in top form—offers fine performances and lovely Pacific Coast scenery for a nice big-screen getaway.
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Sony Pictures Classics’ intermittently charming, ultimately satisfying Boundaries, from writer-director Shana Feste, is a bumpy but feel-good yarn about a divorced, dog-obsessed single mom and her still-frisky octogenarian father, who is (again) kicked out of his senior facility. While comparisons can be made to SPC’s recent elderly-themed The Leisure Seeker, also packing a pro-family message on its road trip (and also suggesting an imminent “Sony Senior” specialty label is in the making), Boundaries and its lighter touch travel into broader demographic territory.

Like good pups not yet housebroken, the film requires some time to break into its rhythm, but once on track, it’s fun. The story has impoverished Seattle mother Laura (a fine Vera Farmiga) first having to deal with teenage son Henry (Lewis MacDougall), a problem child and outcast in school who is being expelled. Socially inept and bully bait, Henry is exceptionally bright and artistically gifted but compelled to draw nudes as he imagines them, even of his own principal.

A second problem is Laura’s own neurotic compulsion to rescue and adopt stray animals, which will be no problem at all for dog-loving viewers. But Laura’s messy-animals-aplenty homestead is a problem. Even greater now is her need to find money to put Henry into a special school better suited for the weird and gifted.

She has a possible solution: her estranged 85-year-old father Jack (a sublime Christopher Plummer), who could pay for Henry’s new school. But Dad is yet another problem: He’s a pothead/anti-establishment type who, stuck in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s, is being forced out of yet another of his senior living establishments for unspecified pot-related activities. And rather than be out on the street, Jack wants Laura to take him in. Laura wants no part of this, so she concocts a solution that involves her somewhat ditzy younger sister JoJo (Kristen Schaal) in L.A. to board him.

The film moves into high gear as a deal is struck that has Laura driving Jack to L.A. if he’ll commit to fund Henry’s education. The family (and plot) are off and running as Laura (after leaving her animal menagerie in a colleague’s good care), Jack and Henry pile into Jack’s old Rolls-Royce and head for L.A. Laura must take the wheel, as serial misbehavior Jack long ago lost his license.

As road trips go, not much proceeds as expected. There are the inevitable stops, including Laura’s need to pick up a stray or two. But crafty Jack creates some bigger bumps, as he’s on his own secret mission to reconnect along the way with old pals and unload all the pot he grew at his senior home and is now hidden, unbeknownst to Laura, in the car trunk. Jack, ever the manipulator, shares the secret with his grandson as a bond grows between them. But this makes Henry a kind of pro tem junior dealer.

On a pretext just to visit old friends and go a little off the beaten track, Jack has a reluctant Laura make some pit stops (actually, pot stops to unload his large stash). One visit is to Jack’s criminally and spiritually inclined art-forger pal Stanley (Christopher Lloyd), a new-agey type who also embodies the good old days. More Hollywood is the visit to wealthy Joey (Peter Fonda), an old crony who made good either in show biz or drugs, often a fine “line” back then. The visits are fraught with nostalgia and hippie-era memories but not without complications, including a house invasion with a surprise twist and a betrayal or two.

Another significant detour Jack demands has the family trio land in Sausalito, where Laura’s layabout ex-husband Leonard (Bobby Cannavale), also Henry’s estranged father, lives in a houseboat. He’s another of Jack’s secret clients. Passion is reignited between Leonard and Laura but fizzles quickly with Leonard exposed as the unrepentant cad that he is.

As the trio work their way to L.A., more adventures and twists emerge, as do reminders of the California counterculture that was. A surprise ending brings its own jolt. And that scenery—such a welcome corrective to all the West Coast news footage of wildfires, mudslides and floods.

The film’s many retro vibes inform its cool factor, but coolest of all is that 88-year-old Plummer still rocks. Farmiga as the lightly neurotic, hardy do-gooder Laura has the most complex role and plays it well. Fonda and Lloyd both ably contribute to the film’s cool retro vibe.

Boundaries,with its so-called “miscreants” crossing so-called normal/proper borders, suggests the rationale and rectitude of that approach to life. In other words, let all “strays” in (immigrants included!), because they have always helped make America great.

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