Vera Farmiga Works to Exorcise her own Family Demons With Father Christopher Plummer.
DIRECTED BY: SHANA FESTE/2018
An all-star cast joins director Shana Feste’s film Boundaries in a story that deals with the tropes of family relationships, and the tangled webs they weave in our lives. It serves also as a road trip film, a comedy, a drama, and everything else in-between. Having started with the more serious debut film The Greatest (2009), and then handling more lighter fare like Country Strong (2010) and Endless Love (2014), director Shana Feste attempts a balancing act between the lighter, cliche riddled story that was Endless Love, and the more serious family relationship angle of The Greatest. The result of this balancing act is Boundaries.
Vera Farmiga (Up in the Air, The Conjuring Films) plays Laura Jaconi, a woman who is barely holding on to the bottom rung of her own life. A single mother with an eccentric teenage son named Henry (Lewis MacDougall-A Monster Calls, Pan), whose calling card is to draw naked sketches of the various men who come and go in her life, Laura is beyond worn out. In between the frequent trips to her son’s school to speak to the principal for his increasingly outlandish behavior, and her best friend/boss’s constant unrealistic demands for Laura, her executive assistant, like having to schedule an exotic white tiger for her daughter’s upcoming birthday, Laura is an emotional wreck.
As the film opens, we find Laura at a session with her therapist where she is describing how she is staying strong in avoiding her father Jack’s (Christopher Plummer- Remember, All the Money in the World) constant calls, while also still failing at her goal to not pick up stray animals (she currently has nine!).
Her father is a constant source of disappointment to Laura, who is obviously still reeling from a lifetime of him abandoning her, and her sister JoJo (Kristen Schaal- A Walk in the Woods, Flight of the Conchords). She is finished with his manipulation, guilt, and the hurt that comes when he eventually always disappoints her.
Eventually, contact is made, and Laura and Henry find themselves driving Jack, who has been kicked out of his retirement home for growing pot and running a drug-dealing business on the side, down from Seattle to Los Angeles where he is to live with JoJo. Along the way, they will make various stops to see some of Jack’s lovable hoodlum friends like Stanley (Christopher Lloyd- Back to the Future, Taxi), and Joey (Peter Fonda- The Ballad of Lefty Brown, Easy Rider). They will also make a stop for Henry to see his dead-beat father Leonard (Bobby Cannavale- Ant-Man and the Wasp, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle).
The cast is able to elevate an otherwise mundane script where the journey (an actual road trip in this case) leads to personal growth for all involved, erasing the need for some of the boundaries they have each put up to keep the pain and hurt of everyday life at bay. Christopher Plummer is obviously having a lot of fun in this role, and he is a magnetic presence whenever he is on the screen, drawing you in just to see what he might possibly say next. His character Jack doesn’t pull punches, saying exactly what he thinks, no matter what anyone else might think about it. He continues to deliver a solid performance in each and every role. The fact that he is nearing 90 years old makes that accomplishment all the more rare, and special, even when the film as a whole is not.
Vera Farmiga is the anchor to the whole story, and her performance is a solid one as she is able to subtly convey the full range of emotions her character experiences without letting the various highs and lows become a caricature. We sense a woman who is very fragile emotionally, yet strong and centered. The pain and hurt that have culminated over a lifetime of disappointment have certainly stunted her development, but they haven’t fully crushed her spirit. Farmiga, finds another role in which she is battling demons. Unlike The Conjuring, these demons are not the scary, supernatural entities, but the ones we all carry around with us. The ones holding us back from becoming the better version of ourselves, especially it seems, when family is at the root of it all.
Boundaries is not a masterpiece, and in the hands of a lesser cast a potential disaster. In the hands of this cast, however, it is an entertaining mess, much like our own families, that has a serious point to make about the need to lower the boundaries that we place in our lives that we erect to keep us insulated and safe. Instead, it encourages us to take a chance and risk the potential pain and disappointment we might experience for the greater good of loving our family, including their imperfections, and embracing the opportunity to maybe find something more meaningful in these relationships. Whether this story accomplishes that goal or not will vary from viewer to viewer, but one thing that cannot be denied is that Vera Farmiga and Christopher Plummer are great in their roles, and worth the price of admission.