The title of the comedy Boundaries connotes the ones between humans, in this case between a 40-ish divorced mom, Laura Jaconi (Vera Farmiga), and her estranged father, Jack (Christopher Plummer), whom her therapist warns is injurious to her mental health. Laura has programmed her phone to emit a shrill alarm when the old man calls, the I.D. reading, “Do Not Pick Up.” But if she doesn’t pick up, there’s no movie, so she does, early on, and if she keeps to her promise not to see him, there’s no movie, either, so she does. Soon she’s on a cross-country car trip to L.A. with the old man and her unhappy, artsy teenage son, Henry (Lewis MacDougall), as well as several stray dogs that she promised her therapist she wouldn’t pick up from the side of the road. (She has about 20 already.) What Laura doesn’t suspect is that Jack, despite his insistence that he wants to make up for lost time and bond with her and Henry (whom he calls “Hoyt”), is actually using her as a chauffeur to help him deal weed up and down the West Coast. Boy, will she be pissed when she finds out!
Written and directed by Shana Feste, who made the Goopy Paltrow vehicle Country Strong and the dismal Endless Love remake, Boundaries is earnest in way that partly makes up for the overbroad characters and stale setup. Farmiga does frazzlement to perfection — her pale blue eyes suggest a woman at sea, drowning in her own emotions — and Plummer underplays cannily, unafraid as ever to embody a man with a core of ice. (Age has softened the arrogance Plummer radiated in his youth — it has made him human.) MacDougall’s Henry, who shocks people with brilliantly rude caricatures, is thin-skinned and hurting in a way that reminded me, sadly, of the late Anton Yelchin. Amid the cringeworthy banter, there are wonderful moments, like the one in which Laura, dropping Henry off at school, asks him for a favor and he says, “What will you give me?” “My love,” she says, to which he replies, “I already have it,” and leaves. She smiles, refused but rewarded nonetheless.
The script plays as if it were written a while back and only partially brought up to date: Although Jack predicts the legalization of weed, one character talks about chucking it all and moving to Venezuela, which these days isn’t the socialist paradise it was reputed to be a few years ago. But if the film smells more of mothballs than marijuana, it’s full of actors I enjoyed seeing: Christopher Lloyd as a painter who lives joyfully in the California woods with his autistic grown son; Peter Fonda as an aged record executive with a taste for pot and reminiscence; and Bobby Cannavale as Laura’s emotionally predatory ex, whose self-centeredness suggests that he’s a younger version of her father. Kristen Schaal plays Laura’s sister, JoJo, who has maintained her sanity by also maintaining a childlike exuberance — which is another kind of boundary.
Let me tell you about the finale — not the resolution of the plot but the musical coda, set to the Bob Dylan song “My Back Pages,” in its lovely cover by the Byrds. (“But I was so much older then / I’m younger than that now.”) It consists of each character staring into the camera, all but one (the film’s lost soul) flashing a big, warm smile. This smile collage is one of the silliest things I’ve ever seen, but I liked it anyway. Feste must have said, “How can I end this film on an upbeat note?” and decided to be literal in the most charming way.