Boundaries is the perfect family comedy. Of course with an R rating it is not for the family, just about one. And a pretty dysfunctional one at that.
Taking a page out of her own life, writer-director Shana Feste has brought her relationship with her father to the screen in a semi-autobiographical way — even if, plot-wise, there are fictional forks in the road in this road comedy, a cinematic staple that works beautifully in this particular tale. It also happens to benefit from superior casting, led by Christopher Plummer, who is simply great as Jack, the 85-year-old deadbeat father of Laura, played gloriously by Vera Farmiga, a divorced and struggling single mom who is trying to get enough money together to get her precocious son Henry (Lewis MacDougall) a decent education after he is expelled from his school for drawing naked pictures of teachers, among other things.
She also happens to be a tender soul who cannot resist picking up stray dogs and cats and taking them in, and Feste, an animal rescuer herself, gets a lot of mileage as these cute animals are in just about every scene. As I say in my video review above, Boundaries is wry, funny, smart and, most important, very recognizably human — four traits that spell a winning comedy in my book.
Laura has been estranged from her slippery but oddly charming dad for the past 20 years, and the plot is set in motion when he coerces her to drive him (his license was suspended) in his old Rolls-Royce from Seattle to L.A. He plans to stay with his other daughter Jo Jo (a very funny Kristen Schaal) after he is kicked out of the retirement community for dealing marijuana. When he says he can get her the money for Henry, and that he is “dying,” she reluctantly agrees to the trip, with Henry and several of the homeless dogs tagging along. What she doesn’t know is he has stuffed a ton of pre-sold weed in his stash of adult diapers and enlisted Henry to help him in his quest to deliver the orders at various stops along the way.
This all leads to detours at hippie-like friend Christopher Lloyd’s house, another one at Laura’s “chronically fatigued” ex-husband’s (Bobby Cannavale) and then to old friend Peter Fonda’s. Crazy stuff happens at every one of these unplanned visits, and it is great fun watching Plummer navigate the whole thing right under his frustrated daughter’s nose. Of course, all of this is just fuel for peeling the layers off the relationships between these characters, all of them strays in one way or another — just like the discarded pets Laura keeps collecting.
Feste expertly guides this all into the kind of modest but lovely human comedy that studios sadly don’t touch these days. It is also, maybe not by intention, a story of female empowerment as we see Laura — mess that she seems to think her life has become — slowly take charge, learning to stop drawing lines, or boundaries, in the sand. It is also female empowerment because Feste has brought in a largely all-female crew to make it, and they have done an admirable job in turning this delightful tour into a movie not to be missed.
Plummer is a true acting icon who lifts every project he is in, and he knows a great comic character when he sees one, and he definitely sees one in the irascible Jack. Farmiga is every bit his equal in a full-bodied role this terrific actress makes her own. Young Scottish actor MacDougall invests Henry with a great deadpan style and perfect American accent, and all the supporting players from Lloyd to Cannavale to Fonda to Schaal to Laura’s engaging potential suitor Yahya Abdul-Mateen II add life to this party. And of course you cannot go wrong with the heartwarming menagerie of four-legged stars assembled here. Producers are Brian Kavanaugh Jones and Chris Ferguson. After debuting at SXSW in March, the film opens Friday via Sony Pictures Classics.
Do you plan to see Boundaries? Let us know what you think.