It’s hard to be too mad at a world where an 88-year-old Christopher Plummer doesn’t just exist, but keeps giving us new reasons to be glad he’s alive. One where our beloved Captain von Trapp can take home a well-deserved Oscar at 82 for Mike Mills’ lovely late-life coming-out story Beginners, or swoop in to rescue last year’s All the Money in World from its ugly Kevin Spacey #MeToo moment, and pretty much make the movie with his performance while he’s at it.
Boundaries has the luck of landing not just him but a generally stellar cast that includes Vera Farmiga, Christopher Lloyd, Peter Fonda, and Bobby Canavale. But writer-director Shana Feste (Endless Love, Country Strong) doesn’t quite seem to know what to do with them. Instead, she’s contrived a Sundance-standard road-trip dramedy where nearly every character is some exaggerated, slightly curdled archetype: the naughty grandpa, the awkward teen, the obliviously awful rich person.
Farmiga is Laura Jaconi, a single mom in Seattle so lacking a protective casing that she lets her wealthy boss-slash-best friend (Dolly Wells) treat her like a low-paid lackey, tries to talk her own therapist out of defending her best interests, and adopts every mangled stray animal she comes across. The ramshackle house she shares with her son Henry (Pan‘s Lewis MacDougall) looks less like a home than an unlicensed vet clinic, teeming with one-eyed pugs, patchy kittens, and hairless, shivering chihuahuas.
The source of Laura’s traumas, we’re quickly told, is her bad dad: the heedless, weed-dealing libertine Jack (Plummer). She’s vowed to keep him mostly out of her life, but when his assisted-living facility boots him for breaking the rules and he confesses that stage-four prostate cancer is about to take him soon anyway, she agrees to drive him down to Los Angeles to spend his final days with her younger sister, JoJo (Kristen Schaal).
What Mills did for Plummer in Beginners — create a nuanced role for someone over 65 with hopes, dreams, and complex emotional and sexual needs — is, sadly, exactly what Feste fails to do here. Instead, she makes Jack a sort of geriatric space cowboy; the silver-haired Tony Montana of marijuana-ville. He railroads his grandson into helping him distribute the contraband he’s secretly stashed in the trunk of the car, constantly deceives his daughter, and seems to save his natural good will and magnetism almost entirely for strangers.
The lovely, expressive Farmiga, too, is left to swing wildly between sad doormat and someone you might actually want to know. (Canavale’s freewheeling ex-husband, Leonard, who supposedly left the family because he suffers from Chronic Fatigue, strolls off his Sausalito houseboat looking as fit as a sweater model, and may actually take the movie’s highly competitive prize for Most Obnoxious Human Onscreen.)
It all bumps along, as road trips do, through silliness and boredom and occasional, unexpected charm. But Feste’s story never really gets the rhythms right, and Boundaries finally reaches the end of the road, feeling like nothing so much as a missed opportunity. B–