An uneven but fun and well-acted road movie
Boundaries tries to be many, mostly appealing, things all at once. And that’s to its credit as a rambunctiously tattered romantic comedy, absurdist road movie/farce, dysfunctional-family sit-com, half-baked countercultural fandango, a showdown for three generations caught up in an accidental family reunion, etc., etc.
It probably tries a little too hard to have it both ways: the not quite housebroken free-spiritedness of “indie” comedy on the one hand, and the reassuring sentiments and reconciliations of Old Hollywood on the other. But it does try, indeed never stops trying, and it has much to recommend it: a particularly strong and canny performance from Vera Farmiga, and a weirdly effective one from Christopher Plummer; a funky supporting cast that includes such luminaries as Christopher Lloyd, Kristen Schaal, Bobby Cannavale and Peter Fonda; and writer-director Shana Feste’s script, which mixes some unusually perceptive character touches into the pell-mell comic plotting.
That plot is both obvious and not always coherent. A frantically neurotic single mom (Farmiga) is already dealing with a crisis in the schooling of her teenage son (a quietly sly Lewis MacDougall), an artistically inclined misfit named Henry, when she and the young man are called to rescue her father, Jack (Plummer), a gleeful proponent and grower of marijuana who has been expelled from the last of the posh retirement homes that would have him.
Within that scheme of things, Laura (Farmiga) and Henry find themselves chauffeuring the Rabelaisian Jack from Seattle to Los Angeles in the latter’s tentatively reactivated Rolls-Royce. The plan is to deposit the old man in the apartment of Laura’s sister (spacey Schaal), but crafty Grandpa Jack contrives to alter their itinerary in ways that will permit him to visit old friends who are likely customers for the load of marijuana he has stashed in the boot of his car.
The meandering start-and-stop journey south takes the threesome into the company of Jack’s most devoutly stoned old friends, including the hilariously lunatic Stanley (Lloyd), a well-heeled smoothie named Joey (Fonda), and an overgrown New Age babbler named Leonard (Cannavale), who is Laura’s ex and Henry’s father.
Feste and her actors have concocted a diverse range of comic and satirical caricatures through most of the film. It’s mainly with Laura and the characters closest to her that there’s a rich interplay of caricature and full-on characterization. Feste’s characters are at their liveliest and most interesting when trying to function both inside and outside their much-practiced psychological self-awareness. Laura, as written by Feste and played by Farmiga, is an especially remarkable creation in that respect.