Directed by Shana Feste
Starring – Vera Farmiga, Christopher Plummer, Lewis Macdougall
The Plot – Single mom Laura (Farmiga), along with her awkward 14 year-old son Henry (MacDougall) is forced to drive Jack (Plummer), her estranged, care-free pot dealing father across country after he’s kicked out of yet another nursing home. The road trip veers off course when Jack decides to make a couple ‘stops’ and Henry asks to see his ne’er-do-well dad Leonard (Bobby Cannavale), completely upending Laura’s attempt to hold her family together and ultimately forcing her to finally see her father for the man he really is.
Rated R for drug material, adult language, some sexual references and nude sketches
– Farmiga and Plummer are consistently effective enough to outrun some of the underwhelming material, and because of such, carve out a Father/Daughter dynamic that works. For Plummer, it’s a chance to play out of type for once, living through Jack as a kind of Rip Torn meets Alec Baldwin stoner that proves wholeheartedly that the man can do comedy. For Farmiga’s Laura, we see a character’s fragility exposed because of the past that continues to haunt her in more ways than one. Vera rises to the occasion, with tears that fall on command, even if we don’t feel her pain emotionally ourselves, because of repeated misfires with direction.
– What road trip movie wouldn’t succeed if they didn’t have montages detailing some of the beautiful countryside? Thankfully, ‘Boundaries’ is more than capable of this feat. What’s refreshing for once is the geographical locations, scouting landscapes up and down the California coast, as opposed to endless deserts that other road trip movies seem saddled with. The beaches are a warm compliment to the ecological coloring of the urban countryside, providing enough versatility to feed into the passing of the time.
– In keeping with tradition of this mostly female-led production team, the cinematography from Sara Mishara offers a subtle glow that radiates that independent cinema vibe throughout. This is arguably Sara’s biggest mainstream project to date, and she doesn’t drop the ball in channeling some of the cold and callous psychological stance between this often strained relationship. On top of this, much of her camera work speaks volumes to manipulating the angles in the way that the characters see things. This puts us in the car alongside our talented cast, when we engage this beautiful scenery that surrounds us in frame and focus.
– I had many problems with the overall tone that I will get to later, but one half of this element worked for me, and that was the humor. For my money, this film should’ve remained committed to being a comedy, because there’s often something sarcastic and wittingly dry to the way Feste writes character deliveries that just feels honest. The best kind of humor is always the kind that audiences can channel and relate to, and I found these parts in the film the most enjoyable because of the way I related to their authenticity.
– While I failed to see the link in what they were representing creatively, the film does at least serve as an olive branch for animal lovers of all tribes. Farmiga’s character throughout the movie adopts these random dogs and cats that she finds abandoned, at least relaying to us the compassionate side of her character that makes her incredibly engaging as a protagonist. If you’re like me and can’t watch a film without stopping to moan at how cute a particular animal is, then Boundaries will give you plenty to oogle at.
– The road trip subgenre is a bit played out, especially in 2018 with a film called ‘Kodachrome’ that did it much better, but ‘Boundaries’ offers nothing in the way of surprises or originality that breaks itself from the pack. Almost immediately, the film writes itself into these familiar corners that inevitably remind you of a better film, and leaving itself little wiggle room in laminating anything memorable for audiences for more than five minutes after they leave the theater.
– I mentioned earlier that the film juggles tonal consistency, often feeling like two directions being compromising opponents in a vicious tug-of-war. As to where the comedy almost entirely works for the film, the movie’s sagging dramatic elements fail miserably, because of how juvenile the humor sometimes leaves a scene. There’s little exposition in terms of that scarred relationship that is never elaborated on, and much of the melodrama invades our scope with very little planning or patience to leave emotional resonance.
– One direction that I found strange was the third act developments that feel like they are keeping the cameras on to reach a certain run time. This is the part of the film where I felt that so much could be trimmed for time, particularly that of a subplot involving Farmiga’s on-screen sister (Played by Kristen Schaal) that adds very little but a distraction to the one-on-one directive that the film needed closure on. Because of this, the film just kind of ends in the way I knew it would, never capitalizing on an emotional center to drive the narrative home.
– In addition to the unnecessary plots involved with the sister character, the road trip itself provides far too many speed bumps in the way of these simmering issues, that keep the resolve slipping further out of our grasp. One stop is fine, but ‘Boundaries’ script instills four different character stops on this long and winding road, with only one of which adding anything to the exercising of demons that the film’s plot wants you to believe so desperately. After a while, this misdirection starts to feel uncomfortable, and begins to hint that maybe some people simply can’t be changed, and we should respect that.
– Coming off of the ground-shaking performance of his time in ‘A Monster Calls’, it feels like a tragic disappointment for Macdougall to not have more to do in this film. Unresolved is a word that I would use to accurately define his character, and the only thing more antagonizing than the film’s lack of exposition for his conflicts, is that of how plain they supplant this teenage force. I don’t go to bat often for child actors, but when you have someone like Lewis Macdougall, you unleash him and let him react to these changing circumstances around him. Failing to do so, may be my biggest regret for the film.