Laura (Vera Farmiga) needs to take her elderly father Jack (Christopher Plummer) from Seattle to Los Angeles. So, of course, she books two direct round-trip tickets and makes the journey in a couple of hours.
Just kidding! Of course, they drive all 1,136 miles in a junky old car, in this case a rusty Rolls-Royce. And, of course, they avoid the highways and take scenic back roads almost the whole way.
“Boundaries” is that sort of road movie where estranged family members (usually an eccentric parent and tightly wound son or daughter) bond on a long road trip. There’s nothing wrong with a familiar formula if it’s executed well. But writer-director Shana Heste’s film never transcends its clichés, wasting fine actors on a screenplay that whipsaws between broad comedy and shrill drama.
Jack was a terrible single father to his daughters Laura and JoJo (Kristen Schaal). He was a gambler and petty criminal who disappeared for weeks at a time when they were kids. (In fairness, sometimes he was gone because he was in jail.) Laura has grown up to overcompensate for her father’s irresponsibility, hovering over her own son Henry (Lewis MacDougall) and taking in every stray animal she comes across.
When Jack gets kicked out of his rest home, Laura reluctantly agrees to send Jack to Los Angeles to live with JoJo. But Jack insists he can’t fly because of a heart condition, so out comes the Rolls, as Laura, Jack and Henry, along with a few adorable mutts, hit the road.
Jack has an ulterior motive, though. He’s been growing a massive amount of marijuana at the rest home, and wants to sell it off as he travels down the coast. Laura is somehow oblivious to the fact that her father is transporting and distributing a large amount of pot, which is one of several hard-to-believe aspects of the film.
Those implausible plot turns undercut the performances, which should be the heart of the film. Farmiga effectively conveys the wounded-bird pathos beneath Laura’s hardened shell, but the idea that she’d be so clueless after a lifetime with her ne’er-do-well father defies common sense. Plummer has a mischievous twinkle in his eye as Jack, but that he suddenly warms to his estranged daughter and grandson doesn’t feel believable.
Along the way, “Boundaries” stops for some quick episodes with good actors, including Christopher Lloyd as an old hippie friend and Bobby Cannavale as Laura’s ex-husband. None of these are very satisfying, and just mark time until the inevitable emotional climax between father and daughter.
The shifts from drama to comedy feel forced, especially a bewildering lip-sync performance of Laura Brannigan’s “Gloria” late in the film that comes out of nowhere. Heste ends the film with each of the characters staring directly into the camera, smiling widely as if to say to the audience, “You had a good time, right?”
Well, not exactly. The dogs are cute, though.