Run time: 1 hour 44 minutes
Stars: Vera Farmiga, Peter Fonda, Christopher Lloyd, Christopher Plummer
Director: Shana Feste
Boundaries is writer-director Shana Feste’s love letter to her appalling yet entertainingly magnetic rapscallion dad, a man who put her through college (and himself in jail) by dealing pot, married six times, had six kids with different women, and took a cross-country drive with Feste during which they picked up several stray dogs.
So, Feste got two of the best actors working today, Vera Farmiga, 44, and Christopher Plummer, 88, to recreate their journey in the form of a road-movie comedy. It's like Little Miss Sunshine, though less well written. Plummer, who’s on an astounding roll after earning six Oscar and AARP Movies for Grownups Award nominations (three of each) in his 80s, puts his twinkly eyes to good use as Jack Jaconi, booted out of his assisted living facility for good reason.
When he turned 80, Plummer has said, he panicked, fearing he didn’t have time to accomplish what he wanted in his career. Then he became the oldest Oscar winner ever (for 2011’s Beginners), achieved must-watch performances in 2017’s All the Money in the World and The Man Who Invented Christmas, and renounced all panic and any plan to retire, ever. “In my 80s, I had another career,” he told the AP. “It’s gone better than most other decades have.”
For a man who once ran around with such rowdy pals as Richard Burton and Peter O’Toole, Plummer looks remarkably well. With a sober grownup’s consummate skill, Plummer draws on his past to play Jack, who cons his divorced daughter Laura (Farmiga) into thinking he has cancer so she’ll drive him from their Seattle home to California, where he’ll live with his other daughter (Kristen Schaal). He makes crude jokes about the diapers he wears, but that’s a con, too — whatever his gastrointestinal issues, he’s using those diapers to hide the pot he’s selling at each rest stop and Buddhist gathering they visit along the road. He’s sworn Laura’s father-craving oddball son (Lewis MacDougall) to secrecy about the $200,000 worth of weed he stashed in the trunk. To keep them safe (in his mind), he attaches notes to the contraband saying it’s strictly “the property of Jack Jaconi.” Feste has said her dad used to mail himself pot to her home before he came to visit, marking the envelope as his property, too.
While picking up stray animals along the road, they visit old friends — a jovial art forger (Back to the Future’s Christopher Lloyd, 79) and a vape enthusiast (Peter Fonda, 78) — but the focus is on the family. Feste uses comedy to work through her own feelings about her late dad (who has a cameo buying Jack’s pot). Laura confronts Jack about his AWOL parenting style and its effects on her love life (“I can’t date people I like; it wouldn’t be fair to them,” she says) and on his screwed-up grandson, who gets expelled from public school for presenting teachers and perfect strangers with his drawings of them as he imagines them nude, in order to portray their “souls.” Jack plans to pay for the kid’s private school with pot money, as Feste’s dad did for her. Laura also visits and tells off the boy’s father (Bobby Cannavale, 48), who’s as shamelessly feckless as Jack, only without the charm.
The explanations of the Jaconi family dynamics are too schematic and on-the-nose, but you can’t deny the power of the Farmiga-Plummer acting duels. When he mocks her animal-rescue habit (“You’re the Pied Piper of mange!”), his sardonic look is perfectly realistic, as is her infuriated inability to set boundaries for him (or any man in her life).
Boundaries may be a wandering story with no sense of direction. But the acting triumphs over the predictable script, and it’s worth going along for the quirky ride.