Shana Feste’s “Boundaries” found my last cinematic nerve and jumped up and down on it mercilessly.
It’s a shrill comedy about a dysfunctional family, made of characters one would cross the street to avoid if one encountered them in real life. Feste calls upon the oldest of tropes, the road movie, and deploys it in the most predictable laugh-cry-laugh-cry cycles possible. And she squanders two of the best actors we have, Vera Farmiga and the legendary Christopher Plummer.
Farmiga plays Laura, a trainwreck of a woman whose character is summed up in the literal metaphor that plays over the opening credits: She takes in stray dogs and cats, who have overrun her Seattle house and her life. She’s so messed up, she says right out, that she lies to her therapist about how messed up she is.
Aside from the many pets, Laura lives with her 14-year-old son Henry (Lewis MacDougall, from “A Monster Calls”). Henry quietly mocks his mom’s string of short-term boyfriends by drawing their portraits — always nude, based on his perception of their souls, and invariably, the guys’ “souls” have small penises. When Henry applies his art techniques to his teachers, he gets himself expelled from school.
The guy who causes Laura the most grief, though, is her father, Jack, played by Plummer. Jack, at 85, has a history as a con man, liar and petty criminal, and his unreliability is at the heart of Laura’s abandonment issues. When Jack is thrown out of another nursing home for illegal activities, namely growing marijuana in the tool shed, Laura is pressed into driving the old man from Seattle to Los Angeles, so he can live with Laura’s sister JoJo (Kristen Schaal).
Thus begins a road trip down the Pacific coast in Jack’s beat-up Rolls Royce — in this movie, even the car has to be eccentric — with Henry and several dogs in the back seat. What Laura doesn’t know is that Jack has stashed in the trunk about $200,000 worth of marijuana, which he plans to deliver to “customers” in Oregon and California along the way. Jack enlists Henry to be his “business partner,” and moviegoers can set their watches to the moment when this secret blows up in everyone’s faces.
If anything I have described above sounds the least bit pleasant or entertaining, I have failed as a critic and wordsmith. Feste (whose “Country Strong” is an underappreciated gem) saddles her cast — which briefly includes Christopher Lloyd, Bobby Cannavale and Peter Fonda — with more quirks than anyone should have to bear, and dialogue so riddled with cliches that it feels like a computer wrote it.
Worst of all, “Boundaries” gives Farmiga and Plummer, actors so talented and with screen personas that exude charm and intelligence, roles so grating that the viewer will want to slap them. They deserve so much better than what they get here, and so do audiences.
zero stars (out of four)
Opened June 22 in select cities; opens July 6 at the Broadway Centre Cinemas in Salt Lake City. Rated R for drug material, language, some sexual references and nude sketches. Running time: 104 minutes.