BOUNDARIES Review: Family Up In Smoke

Look, it's worth it just to see Christopher Plummer deal pot.

As anyone who doesn't have a politically homogenous family right now can attest, families can be difficult. Imperfect people raise more imperfect people, their imperfections clash, they become frustrated with one another for failing to or not trying to address those character flaws, and sometimes it gets to a point where those people need to put distance between each other in order to grow and heal in their own ways. This is the point from which Boundaries starts, and thankfully the conflict at play in this family is less abusive than your fascism-inclined uncle, making the film's push toward milquetoast feel-good reunion benign though not entirely charmless.

Laura (Vera Farmiga) struggles to raise her teenage son Henry (Lewis MacDougall) by herself, as she has a compulsive desire to rescue every stray dog she sees and Henry has a tendency to draw everyone in nude caricature, a behavioral quirk that gets him expelled from school. While Laura attempts to find an affordable private school that will take Henry, she receives a call from her estranged father Jack (Christopher Plummer), who has been kicked out of his retirement home for growing a marijuana farm. Still coping with abandonment issues from when Jack would leave her alone for extended periods when she was a child - presumably to commit minor scandals and crimes - Laura refuses to allow her father to live with her and Henry, and the three take a road trip across the country to deliver Jack to Laura's sister (Kristen Schaal).

The film trades less in character than it does in archetypes with definitive quirks, which offers mild comic treats and makes sense for the film's episodic road trip structure in which Laura unwittingly acts as a pot mule for Jack as he unloads his stash to friends that include an eccentric hippy Christopher Lloyd and Peter Fonda being… well, he's basically just Peter Fonda. That commitment to quirkiness does pull the wind from the sails of the central conflicts between our three leads, but thankfully the performances are solid enough to carry the plot, especially in the burgeoning relationship between Jack and Henry as familial criminal co-conspirators. It's Christopher Plummer who steals the show though, channeling his usual dignity into a roguish character that is simultaneously off-type for Plummer's late career yet still entirely identifiable as capitalizing on the 88-year-old actor's specific grandfatherly charms.

But Boundaries is still something of a lesser joy, not exactly funny enough to be a full-blown comedy, not exactly compelling enough to be gripping in its drama. There's also a recurring theme of the three main characters being in some ways damaged by their relationships with one another, but the solution seems to be to merely ignore each other's faults for the purpose of having a relationship. While this is an admittedly somewhat reductive view of the various dynamics at play, the glossy, feel-good atmosphere of the film paints a moral more universal than situational, prizing family at the cost of the emotional damage they may do to you. Maybe it's a symptom of the world into which this film has been birthed, but that's not exactly a message that resonates right now; sometimes boundaries are put up for a reason, and we don't always need to take them down.

Even so, there's enough wit and charm and solid dramatic performance to justify one's time with Boundaries, especially if one looks to the specific ways in which these characters affect one another as integral to their story, not as something easily transposed to any and all family strife. Jack is a real bastard in many ways, but his likeability acts as a signal that he's redeemable, even if that progress is slow. Just don't buy into the sentimentality to the point of thinking real people are redeemed so easily.

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