By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
There is no such thing as a perfect family. Though some families suffer from greater dysfunctions than others, every family has its share of problems and troubled relationships. This delightful headliner by writer/director Shana Feste tells a fictionalized version of her problematic relationship with her father and does so in a very heartfelt, charming, and often hilarious way. Starring Vera Farmiga, Christopher Plummer, and Lewis McDougal, Boundaries handles familial dysfunction with a sly sense of humor, but never forgets that the essential element in any family is love.
Vera Farmiga stars as Laura Jaconi, a lost, lonely and sometimes scatterbrained working single mother who hates her job, struggles to raise her unusual son Henry (McDougal) and avoids her rebellious father Jack (Plummer) like the plague. Laura already has enough on her plate when she receives a desperate phone call from her father. Jack is about to be evicted from yet another retirement home and has nowhere to go. Clearly not comfortable with taking in her dad, Laura gets her sister Jo Jo (Kristen Schaal) to reluctantly agree to give Jack a place to live. The problem is that Jo Jo lives all the way in Los Angeles while she, Henry, and Jack are based in Portland. In order to get him there, Laura must agree to a road trip with Jack and Henry. Little does she know, Jack is carrying a tremendous amount of marijuana that he plans to sell along the way.
With Boundaries, Shana Feste has made a highly enjoyable and lovable film about a family with true-to-life problems without getting excessively heavy. Feste’s work as a director is solid, but it is her screenplay that really shows off her talent. She does a great job developing her story and characters, and has plenty of outstanding dialogue for the talented cast to take and use beautifully. The movie’s comedy is sure to keep its audiences laughing and doing so often. The humor makes for a fun and riotous road trip movie which mature families will enjoy.
The entire cast performs well, but both Christopher Plummer and Vera Farmiga are appropriately the real standouts. Plummer is superbly cast as the wily troublemaking Jack Jaconi, a rebellious ex-hippie who enjoys smoking pot as much as dealing it. Farmiga is wonderful as the very winsome hot mess that is Laura, a woman with a big heart, but one who is barely keeping her life from falling apart.
Lewis McDougal gives a perfectly nuanced and subdued turn as Laura’s son Henry. This painfully awkward and shy teen character has a talent and penchant for making risque charicaturesque drawings which serve as another source of the film’s raucous humor. The movie also features memorable performances by Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Bobby Cannavale, Kristen Schaal, Christopher Lloyd, and Peter Fonda.
What I also appreciated about this film is the fact that Shana Feste doesn’t offer any easy or perfect solutions to dilemmas entailed, but realistically portrays how people must come to terms with problematic family members as best as they can. Occasionally, Feste treads upon the material too lightly, but I am grateful that she nevers goes overboard with any falsely conceived or executed melodrama. It is a movie I must highly recommend, as it shares an important theme of love among imperfect people in an imperfect world.
During this year’s SXSW film festival, I was able to sit with writer/director Shana Feste and actors Lewis McDougal and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II for a brief interview. I asked Shana about her inspiration for making the film. She stated, “This is a personal story and my biggest crime (like the Laura Jaconi character) when I was dating, I was dating men exactly like my father.” In addition for sharing a personal connection with her protagonist. Other aspects of her life inspired another key character. “Henry is probably me when I was young. I now have two boys and I always think of what they would be like when they are older, and I hope they are weird. I was weird. I was a weird kid. I hope we don’t have an ordinary kid who is super-boring. I would be impressed if I had a kid like Henry.”
I had to ask Shana about the raucous artwork made for the film. I asked, “Who did the artwork for Lewis’s character?” Lewis chimed in, “Well, it certainly wasn’t me!” (Everyone laughs.) Shana added, “Our art department hired a guy. These pictures were a real hoot on set. Bobby (Cannavale) thought his was hilarious and Christopher Plummer was very pleased with his.” (Everyone laughs.)
I asked everyone if they had any awesome Christopher Plummer stories or any particular feelings about working with the Hollywood legend. Yahya said, “I have one. It was one of my first days shooting. It was just me and Vera (Farmiga). They (the crew) were changing over on the scene and I heard that he (Plummer) was around, and he walked by. I got really, really nervous, and I was surprised at myself because I was not expecting that. I saw him and I froze up. I took Vera to the side and said, ‘Please ask Christopher if I could have a picture with him.’ And she asked him and of course, he obliged and was so nice. He was glad to know I was a young actor who went to drama school. He is such a charismatic person.”
Shana added, “We were all so shocked with his work ethic. He was memorizing 12 to 15 pages of dialogue a day, and I can barely remember the premise of the film for interviews. His brain is so well-trained from his theater days. There were days that he had pneumonia while we were shooting which is incredibly dangerous. He was so incredibly professional and impressive in every way.”
I asked Shana what is the big message she hopes her audiences will take away after watching the film. “I am still figuring that out,” Shana said. “This was my way of exploring a troubled relationship. I think if there is love there, I would encourage people to see the love and not think that they have to have some kind of fairy tale ending. It is a long journey working this kind of stuff out. It’s okay if some of that isn’t resolved. Little steps are okay–little steps toward each other.”