Laura is a single mom in charge of her household and destiny, ostensibly focused on leading by example to make life better for herself and teenage son Lewis Mac Douggal (Henry). He is the proverbial canary in the coal mine. When a child is not growing properly and doing so poorly in school the first question is, "What's going on at home?"
Dual expulsions are the catalysts for the plot. Henry a provocative misfit is set free from his public high school. (Mac Dougall uncannily resembles a young Tom Hanks in tone and looks. It's as if they were separated at birth.) This is why Henry is available to take the inter-generational expedition to save incorrigible Christopher Plummer (Jack) from homelessness after his local senior living facility asked him to leave for indeterminate reasons.
Trying out her new skills from therapy, Jack whose name on Laura's smartphone is “Don’t Pick Up!” finally gets through. The verbal tussling ensues. Laura's younger sister Kristen Schaal (Jojo) saves the day and volunteers to host Dad although she lives in cramped quarters in LA . Jojo may be another casualty, another cheery lost soul and unwitting victim of a fragile family system.
The family normalizes the chaos and 'makes do' up to a point. Laura is hurt, appalled by the example Grandpa Jack sets for Henry, but also torn between obligation and ambivalence in equal parts. Simultaneously she is filled with dread, doubts and hope about what the future holds. This is ripe territory for resentments to build. Can Jack can redeem himself to become a steady presence in their lives?
Laura could use help running her household. There is one potential romance in the offing with Serge (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) who seems healthy enough and sincerely smitten with her. Can Laura truly love and trust again as she is still recovering from a difficult divorce and abandonment from Leonard (Bobby Cannavale) a 'bad boy' like Dad.
Such is the context for three generations of one sweet yet dysfunctional family with cosa nostra tendencies as they embark from Seattle in a vintage luxury gas guzzler. They progress along the magnificent coastline south to Los Angeles. Writer-director Shana Feste sourced material from her own father-daughter love-hate-love history to tell this story. Ironically it's Ms. Feste's upbringing that may have simultaneously cracked her wide open and toughened her up sufficiently for a life making movies in Hollywood.
This sobering family drama tucked into a sly comedy features a loosely knit glam grunge pack of humans, rescue dogs and stray cats. Our Alpha Female is harried much of the time. Laura barely cobbles together a living as a freelance party planner and sole support of her home. Freedom without a safety net defines Laura's life except for the structure imposed by the tender care reserved for her multitude of pets many of whom need substantial medical care.
Laura's consent to the trip is wrapped up in a desperate agenda. She is banking on Jack's pity because then he will cough up the expensive tuition for Henry's artsy private school tuition where presumably he will be better understood and thrive. Jack is using the opportunity for the road trip to enlist Henry's help to deliver and collect substantial sums of money for the marijuana Jack has cultivated at the retirement community.
Looking the other way despite clues and evidence to the contrary, Laura is steeped in willful naivete. Other than raising funds through sub-rosa activities how else would Jack be able to afford Henry's expensive tuition? Along the way they reunite with old family friends such as aging art forger Joey (Peter Fonda) and Stanley (Christopher Lloyd) who is the caretaker of his special needs adult son.
There is no mention of Laura's mother, just the charismatic vagabond father, a Robin Hood/Florence Nightingale figure, who dabbles in peddling herbal medicine to cancer survivors and the elderly like himself. Could this unconditional loving motley tribe be on the leading edge of enlightenment and innovation as they reject the confining strictures of conventional life? Or, are they impractical air heads out of touch with reality?
Jack is the historical source of Laura's loneliness along with his younger version Leonard. Both of these men, and who knows maybe Laura's absent hard working mother too who stood by as a silent witness, rounds out our loopy heroine's despair. Our "Pied Piper of Mange," as Jack calls Laura is one mean old daddy and her kryptonite. Recall Super Man's powers were diminished or sidetracked upon contact with another 'green substance' from another mother planet.
'Boundaries' highlights a segment of societies' underdogs struggling against the mainstream. Laura's journey reveals a universal truth: life is sometimes one long slow uphill slog. Partial resolution is achieved, including Laura’s cathartic dressing down of her superficial entitled boss lady. Laura is more formed and tested by the harsher realities of life and more protected than her budding new love interest. Bursts of defensiveness add layers of tone and reveal deeper complexities as does Laura's realization she has reached the limit on the number of dogs she can legally adopt.
'Boundaries' has a louch life-like ambiance which some might find irritating. Sure the story unfolds and comes full circle which could be seen as predictable. Then again, to be a fully realized human being means taking stock, testing oneself, falling short and rising again.
'Boundaries' tackles believable complications compounded by characters’ self-defeating habits of mind and behavior. Should Laura return to therapy she must be more honest, not duck and dodge from hard truths and attempt to 'keep it real.' To tolerate her frustrations by facing what discomforts her is what it means to move from fear to safety by taking the reins on leading a life well lived.
Tara Fass, LMFT #35078, is a licensed marriage and family therapist in Los Angeles, California. She treats adults and couples dealing with a broad range of issues from navigating the legacy of divorce in one's life, to the quarter life crisis and conscious aging. Together we attempt to make meaning [...]