Even before Boundaries‘ tired plot grinds into motion, your patience may already be worn thin by the introduction of only the first of its many grating characters. Vera Farmiga’s Laura Jaconi is a single mom who works as an executive assistant to a nebulously wealthy woman (Dolly Wells). But we don’t know that yet. The first thing we learn about her is that she obsessively collects stray and sick dogs, unable even to resist to the urge to stuff one into her purse on the way to see the therapist who’s encouraging her to end this behavior. This quirk-first approach is exemplary of director Shana Feste’s inability to elevate Boundaries above the cutesy subgenre of indie-lite festival fare.
When Laura’s estranged father, Jack, gets booted from his retirement community for selling weed, she and her teenage son, Henry (Lewis MacDougall), unwilling to welcome him into their House of 1,000 Mutts, decide to drive him from Seattle to Los Angeles, where Laura’s sister, JoJo (Kristen Schaal), has agreed to let him stay with her.
With the road trip element, Boundaries often plays like a version of Little Miss Sunshine with Alan Arkin’s character at the center. But when Jack admits, to the family he barely knows, that he’s terminally ill, you may get a whiff of a busted-ass version of The Royal Tenenbaums. In any case, originality is hard to come by here.
That begins with the decision to build a movie around Jack in the first place. The cliche of the irascible, incorrigible old man with a heart of gold is so old, it was parodied over 40 years ago in Network with the repeated “crusty but benign” character description. Making him dirty–in both the sexual and morally corrupt definition of the world–doesn’t doesn’t do the movie any favors. It just brings us back to Arkin.
Maybe Feste is unaware of Little Miss Sunshine, though, since she is unable to produce a more current popular culture reference than Home Alone. Such superficialities abound. One of the colorful characters we meet along the way is an art forger played by Christopher Lloyd who apparently makes realistic copies of famous Vincent Van Gogh paintings, as if there’s a black market for fakes of art works everyone already knows the location of.
It’s Laura, not Jack, who’s supposed to be our protagonist. Unfortunately, Feste is too enamored of the crotchety vulgarian to pay enough attention to her. There’s something to be mined from the relationship between Laura and Henry, which is both inappropriately close and prone to secret-keeping on both sides. Even the stupid thing with the dogs could have been done better, as it was in Mike White’s underrated Year of the Dog back in 2007. But this is the kind of movie in which the characters are always talking about being broke yet always have the dough for multiple hotel rooms at the drop of a hat. With these details, as with the movie in general, Feste takes the easy route.