It’s nothing new in cinema when an eccentric old man is put in a car and dragged across a few states while he attempts to make a meaningful connection with another person in the vehicle. What better way to learn about someone than to spend a few days on the road together?
Actors Bruce Dern and Will Forte do it exceptionally well as a father and son traveling to claim a million-dollar sweepstakes prize in Alexander Payne’s bittersweet 2015 film Nebraska. Alan Arkin won an Oscar for playing a heroine-addicted grandfather on an adventure with his dysfunctional family in 2006’s Little Miss Sunshine. With enough screen time, a sharp-minded senior citizen can usually impart some life lessons and words of wisdom for those willing enough to accept it.
Laura Jaconi (Vera Farmiga) is not, in fact, one of those characters. She’s not interested in anyone stepping into her lane, especially if that someone is her estranged 85-year-old father Jack (Christopher Plummer). When Jack is kicked out of his retirement home for growing weed, she has two options: let him move in with her and her rebellious teenage son Henry (Lewis MacDougall), or put him on a plane to Los Angeles to live with her younger sister JoJo (Kristen Schaal).
She chooses option two, but consents to making the drive from Seattle to L.A. when her father agrees to pay for Henry’s private school. Jack, however, has ulterior motives. With $200,000 worth of weed in the trunk of his vintage Rolls Royce, he recruits his grandson to help him unload the product during their trip down the West Coast, which includes a stop to meet Jack’s old friend Stanley (Christopher Lloyd) and Henry’s loser father Leonard (Bobby Cannavale).
While some complex themes like abandonment and redemption are touched upon lightly, there’s not much room for anything else to breathe with Farmiga’s exaggeratedly neurotic character overshadowing some of the more interesting relationships that should’ve been given top billing. Farmiga’s performance, in itself, is not bad, but Laura’ character is cliché, obvious and far from nuanced. She is an animal lover who takes in every single stray dog that she finds, a metaphor for the trauma she’s experienced throughout her life with an absent father.
Even then, Boundaries writer/director Shana Feste (Country Strong) never explores the troubled dynamic between father and daughter. We’re told Jack was a less-than-stellar dad — and we definitely see the effects of the flawed upbringing in Laura’s personality — but Feste fails to get to the heart of the issue. By the end, no one has grown emotionally or identified the root of the problem or learned anything about themselves or the people they love. Sadly, closure only happens because the credits start to roll.