Film

Boundaries

Daddy Dearest

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

The road-tripping Boundaries is packed with familiar rhythms and situations. Once you hear the setup and meet the characters, you can safely guess where the story is going, how we’re going to get there and even some of the gags we’ll be hearing on the way.

Still, it’s impossible to completely write the film off. Every so often, writer/director Shana Feste will drop in a line or a situation that doesn’t feel like something she picked up from Indie Screenwriting Tropes 101, and you feel yourself being drawn into the story.

You’ve also got the two stars who headline the project. Do Vera Farmiga and Christopher Plummer ever hit the wrong notes? Even when something feels too jokey, too trite, they somehow make you buy into it. And even if you don’t buy in, you want to believe them, which is almost as important in a film like this.

Farmiga plays Laura, a single mom in Seattle who has gone through a series of bad relationships with men. She goes to therapy to talk about her issues and collects special-needs pets to help fill the holes in her life.

All of this seemingly can be traced back to her absentee father. Jack (Plummer) is charming but has a tendency to disappear and break the law. He is estranged from his daughter—when he phones, the caller ID reads “Don’t Pick Up!”—and resides in an assisted-living facility. Well, he did until he got bounced out for dealing marijuana.

Needing a place to stay, he reaches out to Laura. She doesn’t want him living at home with her equally neurotic teen son, Henry (Lewis MacDougall), a sweet-natured loner with a fondness for drawing nude pictures of everyone he meets. So she arranges for him to move in with her sister in Southern California.

That means a big road trip, with Laura, Jack, and Henry accompanied by a growing menagerie of dogs. Of course, the trip is taken in Jack’s gold Rolls Royce—because, well, why not? And he’s not through with his drug-dealing days, as he stashes $200,000 worth of weed in the trunk and plans to unload it to his clientele along the way. Jack, it seems, is not merely some small-time dealer.

You can sit in the movie theater and predict the stops on their quirk-filled journey. Will there be a near-miss with the law? Will Henry draw closer to Jack? Will there be the reveal of a life-threatening medical diagnosis?

Still, just when you’re ready to throw in the towel, Plummer does something that keeps you going; maybe it’s the quietly affecting way Jack turns up the twinkly charm as age and illness are starting to take things away. Then there’s Farmiga’s ability to mine a laugh out of angst and yet remain human, and MacDougall’s sly, sleepy charm. 

Feste creates some nice moments when she breaks away from cliche. There’s a lovely sequence when the family eats at a Chinese restaurant. Jack, with a quiet, authoritative flair, orders one of everything on the menu. In a quick instant, you learn how this man operates and how fun and charismatic he can be, and how much it hurts when he inevitably disappears.

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