Boundaries Refuses to Keep Its Distance

Movie Review: Boundaries

Shana Feste smashes a piñata full of dysfunctional family cliche and finds enough sweet stuff to keep Vera Farmiga and Christopher Plummer busy on the road to forgiveness.

Boundaries

3.5/5

Starring: Vera Farmiga, Christopher Plummer, Lewis MacDougall, Bobby Cannavale, Kristen Schaal

Directed by: Shana Feste

Running time: 1 hr 44 minutes

Rating: Restricted

By Katherine Monk

Shana Feste says writing Boundaries helped her find them. But this story inspired by personal experience with her father is a beautiful surrender to just about every disabling, unrealistic, futile feeling.

So best to forgive the obvious plot about an eccentric old hustler who convinces his resentful daughter and her maladjusted son to go on an impromptu family road trip. Also find a place in your heart for the gratuitous use of misfit pets. You might as well, because as much as you may spar with every moment of cliche in this oddly familiar family yarn, the struggle is futile. The movie simply has too much humanity, and too much charm, to pass it off as a Little Miss Sunshine with shelter animals.

From a plot perspective, however, it’s an accurate description because this is a story of goofy family dysfunction packaged as a road movie. Opening with a close-up of Vera Farmiga’s full moon face in natural light, we meet Laura — a divorced mom with some unresolved father issues.

…As much as you may spar with every moment of cliche in this oddly familiar family yarn, the struggle is futile. The movie simply has too much humanity, and too much charm, to pass it off as a Little Miss Sunshine with shelter animals.

She’s talking to her therapist about boundaries, and while it’s clear Laura is trying to offer up the right answers to every question, we suspect she’s in deep denial about what’s really going on in her own mind.

She says she’s not going to answer her father’s calls. She’s even programmed her phone to flag his calls as a full-on alarm. And yet, by the end of the opening act, Laura, her son Henry (Lewis McDougall) and her father Jack (Christopher Plummer) are on the road in an aging Rolls Royce heading from Seattle to Los Angeles.

Jack has convinced his reluctant daughter the trip is a matter of life and death. But Jack is an old con. He’s got the neon twinkle in his eye reflecting a lifetime in the game. He can’t help it, and Laura can’t stop herself from getting sucked in.

A lovable doormat who takes in every stray dog that comes her way, Laura keeps trying to show some backbone. She wants to be that strong, independent woman who has it all together. Yet, she can’t say no. She has no boundaries, and the very idea of erecting a fence between her and  those she loves sends pangs of guilt through every fibre of her flannel covered existence.

She’s a believable character, and a relatable one, but on paper, she’s the kind of person no one ever wants to be. There is nothing heroic in her demeanour. She has no obvious strengths. She embodies the antithesis of the conquering American hero who gets things done without flinching at the idea of offending others.

She’s a believable character, and a relatable one, but on paper, she’s the kind of person no one ever wants to be. There is nothing heroic in her demeanour.

So how do Feste and Farmiga transform this wishy-washy worm-like woman with no backbone into a source of inspiration? They make us see the beauty of her would-be weakness, and in turn, force us to reevaluate the essence of heroic behaviour.

When Laura is faced with a situation that prompts anger, she is ready to forgive. When she has every reason to abandon people, she gives them another chance. When she is wronged, she offers up the other cheek. Yes, she seems to have the word “welcome” woven into her shoulder blades, but she’s funny, she’s self-aware and she’s a wonderful mother who would do just about anything to make Henry happy.

Yes, she seems to have the word “welcome” woven into her shoulder blades, but she’s funny, she’s self-aware and she’s a wonderful mother who would do just about anything to make Henry happy.

Similarly, Jack should feel a little slimy as the golden ager with a suitcase full of illicit weed, but in the hands of Christopher Plummer, he’s not just a charmer, he’s the devil you’re desperate to know. You know he’s a con, but you want the wool pulled over your eyes because in that fuzzy moment of bad decision-making, you feel like a million bucks.

Henry is only one who isn’t trying to be anything other than he is. He embraces his weird streak, shrugs off the endless ridicule from his peers, and finds personal power in expressing himself as honestly as he can — by sketching people naked, and telling them he’s pictured their very soul.

Needless to say, the destination here isn’t as important as the journey itself — which is a huge relief because the whole plot may as well be on autopilot.

Needless to say, the destination here isn’t as important as the journey itself — which is a huge relief because the whole plot may as well be on autopilot.

Feste’s success is finding the particular truth in each character and turning an altogether expected trip into a feel-good detour of the self, where few of us erect the boundaries we probably should — then punish ourselves for it. Feste takes us all off the guilt hook, by focusing on the beautiful world we can greet when we wear the “Welcome” on our back.

@katherinemonk

 

THE EX-PRESS, July 6, 2018

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Summary

3.5Score

As much as you may spar with every moment of cliche in this oddly familiar family yarn, the struggle is futile. The movie simply has too much humanity, and too much charm, to pass it off as a Little Miss Sunshine with shelter animals. Vera Farmiga stars as a single mother trying to save her son, and countless stray animals, from the cruelty of the outside world in this movie about creating safe spaces inside your soul. -- Katherine Monk

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