Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
Rated R, 104 minutes
Directed by: Shana Feste
Starring: Vera Farmiga, Christopher Plummer, Lewis MacDougall, Christopher Lloyd, Kristen Schaal, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Bobby Cannavale, Peter Fonda, Dolly Wells
The title alone of writer-director Shana Feste’s BOUNDARIES tells audiences all they need to know. This is a story about characters who are incapable of enforcing their own personal boundaries. They either have too many boundaries, or don’t have boundaries at all. And their pre-conceived notions of those proverbial lines in the sand will be washed away once the tide rolls in. Listen, it’s a lot less convoluted than Feste’s COUNTRY STRONG – a film with a killer soundtrack (one that frequently plays in my car) in which no character demonstrates what exactly it means to be “Country Strong.” Though this road-trip dramcom has sincere sentiments, adorable dogs, and understated performances from an impeccable cast, a few road blocks threaten to ruin the journey.
Laura Jaconi (Vera Farmiga) has always had a big heart. But thanks to severe abandonment issues bequeathed by her estranged father Jack (Christopher Plummer), she’s got a hole in it – one she’s constantly trying to fill with stray animals and lousy men. She likes to think of herself as a fixer, though she’s anything but. Her days are spent being frazzled over her dead-end job as a party planner for the insufferable, wealthy Sofia (Dolly Wells). She’s also at her wits’ end with artistic teen son Henry (Lewis MacDougall), whose own deadbeat daddy issues are causing him to act out. However, her life turns upside down when she agrees to transport her rascally dad from Seattle to live with her happy-go-lucky sister JoJo (Kristen Schaal) in Los Angeles. Trouble is, she doesn’t know he’s brought a ton of pot he’s looking to unload on the way down the coast. Hijinks, modest hilarity and healing ensue.
Feste has an undeniable ability to draw the audience in with richly-developed characters and complex, resonant relationships. They get to deliver a few feisty, gratifying lines like Plummer’s retort, “…you bring out the right-wing Christian in me.” Their neuroses never tip the scales into being unbelievable. Sure, a few wander too far into twee territory – like Henry’s penchant for drawing detestable people naked, and Laura and JoJo’s costumed dance number set to Laura Branigan’s “Gloria.” The obvious idea that Laura is rescuing dogs because she can’t rescue herself is a little cringeworthy. Feste spends a smidge too long with Laura’s ex/ Henry’s selfish dad (Bobby Cannavale), but it’s okay because that’s where the drama moves forward. That said, the ways in which Feste connects her characters’ travails and familial strife are fascinating enough to keep us tethered.
The tension of this movie is smartly kept between the humans, and not their four-legged companions. Feste wisely doesn’t exploit or manipulate our feelings when it comes to the animals. For those in the audience who might be concerned, rest assured: All the animals in the film are okay the entire time. This is the secret pro-animal-rescuing movie of 2018.
Nevertheless, Feste’s material displays some contrivance and tonal imbalance. It seems fairly convenient that a cop would drive by at the exact moment Laura throws contraband all over the road. Jack’s schemes put Henry into some precarious scenarios, which makes the audience wonder if Jack’s presence is even healthy for Laura and Henry. Things shift into an entirely different gear once the family gets to Jack’s friend Joey’s (Peter Fonda) remote, posh mansion. Plummer and Fonda sharing screen time comes at a cost: Nothing that happens in this location impacts the narrative much except for dragging momentum down. In fact, it’s where the picture wildly shifts tones ranging from chill, to intense, to unwieldy comedy. While it would be painful to cut (due to the two legends’ chemistry), the sequence could stand to be excised.
BOUNDARIES certainly won’t serve to test yours. Its kind-hearted spirit manages to break down those barriers.
BOUNDARIES opens in limited release on June 22.