Much like Hearts Beat Louder, which opened in town a few weeks ago, Shana Feste’s Boundaries feels like the type of movie that would have been made in the heyday of the quirky indie films a decade-and-a-half ago. It’s full of dysfunctional adults, dysfunctional families and a decent soundtrack. It’s mostly reminiscent of Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Feris’ Little Miss Sunshine (2006), featuring a road trip and a grumpy grandpa (Christopher Plummer) with a predilection for illicit substances. But it’s not 2006, so Boundaries feels like a movie that’s out of joint and out of time, while also being a dud in its own right.
Vera Farmiga plays Laura, a single mother knee-deep in therapy with a soft spot for adopting stray animals (her house is full of them) and a son, Henry (Lewis MacDougall, A Monster Calls), who likes to draw nudes of strangers without their permission and — surprise — is about to get kicked out of school for it. Laura’s biggest issue is her relationship with her father, Jack (Plummer), a longtime drug dealer who’s as selfish as he is inattentive. After getting removed from his retirement home for growing marijuana, he makes a deal with Laura — if she drives him from Seattle to LA to a place for him to live, he’ll give her the money to put Henry into a private art school, where he’ll hopefully fit in better.
From this point, the film turns into a quirky road trip flick, with Laura constantly in the throes of anxiety and Jack manipulating her into taking him places where he and Henry can secretly sell weed. This is the crux of the plot, with Jack’s skullduggery (wholly ignorant of the fact that weed is legal in every state they drive through) along with Laura’s manic nature and complicated relationship pushing things forward. In theory, this is fine. I’m sure all this nonsense about a drug-dealing octogenarian and his psychologically damaged family made a great elevator pitch, but in action, Boundaries just feels flat and drawn-out.
There’s a shopping list of issues with the movie: Of the main cast, no one’s particularly likable; and both the humor and melodrama of the plot feel very uninspired, two incredibly important things for a movie that’s so equally reliant on pathos and comedy. I want to be diplomatic and blame this on the style of the movie it is, quirky and sentimental and slathered in earth tones, a type of movie that hasn’t been truly in vogue in about a decade. But I think even in the days when this type of movie flourished in art houses around the country, Boundaries would have been passed over even then. Rated R for drug material, language, some sexual references and nude sketches. Now playing at Grail Moviehouse.