Updated: Feb 6, 2020
Road trip movies usually fall into one of a couple of different categories of quality: the good way is they have talented actors performing sharply-written dialogue and include detours that entertain while enhancing the central relationships and themes. Last year’s Last Flag Flying is an example of this formula done well. The bad kind uses the journey to add color to an otherwise underdeveloped story. Wackiness and quirks replace character and the audience is supposed to assume something has been resolved just because the trip was completed. That is the formula done poorly. Boundaries belongs in that category.
It is about Laura, a divorced single mom with serious daddy issues. She has been trying to keep her distance from her father, Jack, but when her teenage son gets into trouble at school, she calls him to ask for financial help. Jack has just been kicked out of his complex and needs a place to stay, so he agrees to give her the money if she will drive him to her sister’s house in California. Along the way, he can try to connect with his daughter and grandson while getting them into some light trouble.
The cast is strong. Vera Farmiga stars as Laura, the great Christopher Plummer is Jack, and Lewis MacDougall (excellent in 2016’s A Monster Calls) is her son, Henry. There are also small roles for Christopher Lloyd, Peter Fonda, Bobby Cannavale and Kristen Schaal as the sister. But they are all playing quirky “Characters” instead of believable people and their difficulties are simplified to the level of a bad sitcom. Though the actors are enjoyable enough to keep Boundaries watchable most of the time, there was insufficient depth in the screenplay to make me care about any of it.
The film was written and directed by Shana Feste and, unfortunately, she never does much with the story past her clichéd premise. The character’s problems are handled lightly, but I did not particularly like them, so it was rarely funny. Farmiga, Plummer and MacDougall do the best they can to convey the emotions and Cannavale and Schaal each have a few amusing lines in their scenes.
The biggest issue is I did not completely understand the purpose of their stops. I understand them in terms of the plot, though not in terms of the story’s themes. They do nothing to further the characters. At the end of the movie, things are different for them than they were at the beginning, however I am not sure exactly what has motivated that change. Feste says her characters have grown without really transforming anything about them.
Boundaries (101 minutes without the end credits) is an eccentric, multi-generational road trip comedy/drama that is not consistently funny and fails to fully deal with its drama. That being said, I cannot entirely dismiss a film pairing Vera Farmiga and Christopher Plummer. Farmiga is one of my favorite current actresses and Plummer always delivers a captivating performance, regardless of the material. They have some nice moments together, but the screenplay never made me interested in their relationship. Boundaries is not good, however if you like these actors as much as I do, it may be worth getting in the car with them anyway.
2 out of 5
Vera Farmiga as Laura
Christopher Plummer as Jack
Lewis MacDougall as Henry
Kristen Schaal as JoJo
Bobby Cannavale as Leonard
Christopher Lloyd as Stanley
Peter Fonda as Joey
Written and Directed by Shana Feste