Certified critic on Rotten Tomatoes. Member of the Houston Film Critics Society. Also writes for Bounding Into Comics and God Hates Geeks.
Boundaries is a comedy-drama written and directed by Shana Feste (Endless Love, Country Strong). Vera Farmiga stars as Laura Jaconi; a woman who has never really gotten over her father abandoning her. Laura has a sporadic personality, can’t keep a man in her life, and has an animal hording issue where she seems to take in every stray dog that crosses her path. Her son, Henry (Lewis MacDougall, A Monster Calls), has an introverted kind of personality, draws his mother’s love interests naked, and doesn’t fit in with anyone at school. The mother and son duo are forced to drive Laura’s father, Jack (Christopher Plummer), to California from Portland, Oregon when he’s kicked out of his retirement home but a family road trip soon deteriorates into a taxi service that caters to the $200,000 worth of marijuana that fuels Jack’s drug dealing tendencies.
Boundaries has a horrid reputation that may not be entirely deserved. The film has a 53% on Rotten Tomatoes, a 49% on MetaCritic, and a 3.0/10 on IMDb. The film is a strange one since it showcases how flawed the Jaconi family is (which also includes Laura’s sister JoJo, played by Kristen Schaal), but has no idea where to go otherwise. The idea is Laura will take her father Jack to live with her sister JoJo in her studio apartment in California. Laura has never been close to her father ever since he left her to take care of her younger sister when they were growing up. They make several pit stops along the way, so Jack can secretly sell pot and mostly be an uncaring douche towards those who matter to him. He eventually ropes Henry into being his partner. Since Henry has never had a steady father or male figure in his life, he gravitates towards the experience and thinks drug dealing with his grandpa is the best thing ever when it obviously probably isn’t so great for a high school student who was just expelled.
The film juggles Jaconi family tension with bizarre individuals and unique personalities who are friends of Jack thanks to him being their dealer like Stanley (Christopher Lloyd) and Joey (Peter Fonda). Stanley makes a killer candy corn casserole and is probably a little too comfortable with being nude around other people (which Lloyd looks strangely fit for an 80 year old) and Joey’s visit is only memorable thanks to his idiotic grandson and imbecilic friend attempting to rob Joey and Jack while they are stoned. Fonda’s negative tweet about Donald Trump’s youngest son Barron Trump is way more memorable than anything he does with his five minutes of screen time in Boundaries.
Feste seems to be aiming for the most dysfunctional of families finding a purpose and cohesion with Boundaries, but it seems to aimlessly wander the majority of the time. You could say Henry is at the age where he’s struggling to find who he really is and what direction he’ll go in to reach adulthood while his mother is searching for something and or someone who will calm her chicken-with-its-head-cut-off mentality. While she loves Henry, they’re obviously two thirds (or maybe even one half) of an incomplete puzzle and Laura is attempting to find that missing puzzle piece. Boundaries is the story of finding completion where you least expect it even if it’s a solution that seemed impossible and was right under your nose from the start.
The Jaconi family journey is a muddled one though. Their flaws and their encounters take center stage when their relationships should be more prominent. Why it was important for Laura to see her ex-husband, Leonard (Bobby Cannavale), is puzzling. He’s a client of Jack’s, so there’s some purpose behind the encounter, but Henry barely has any dialogue with him and Laura stumbles and falls into a shameful hole regarding how she feels about Leonard instead of making any sort of progress or refusing to meet with him at all. The decisions Laura and Henry make are often nonsensical and by the seat of their pants. Jack seems confident in who he is and how he is, but he contradicts all of that at the end of the film. The Jaconi family is basically a trio of wishy-washy crybabies whose crappy fates are self-inflicted.
Vera Farmiga and Christopher Plummer deliver strong performances in Boundaries and Lewis MacDougall knows how to convey the difficult strangeness one goes through as they approach blossoming puberty and eventual adulthood, but Boundaries is more erratic and pointless than the characters it highlights. That Royals Royce loaded with pot is like a clown car overflowing with undecided circumstances. The journey isn’t boring, but it feels like the story is stuck on a highway that goes in a constant circle and has no exits; it doesn’t crash into a dead end but it never breaks that infinite loop. That lonesome hot tub filled with nothing but Christopher Lloyd’s saggy unmentionables seems way more adventurous than where the Jaconi family ends up by the end of the film. Boundaries is a lot like the candy corn casserole that Stanley serves to his guests; there are enjoyable ingredients somewhere in this gluttonous goulash, but it’s too lopsided as it is to be fully enjoyable.
© 2018 Chris Sawin