Film & Television

‘Boundaries’: A Multi-Generational Road Trip

The term “sandwich generation” was coined in 1981 by Dorothy Miller and Elaine Brody. It refers to people (usually women) in about their 40s who are concurrently raising children and caring for aging parents. In Shana Feste’s new movie Boundaries, Laura Jaconi is stuck in the middle of her sensitive, artistic son and her devil-may-care father. It isn’t a position she wants to be in. In fact, the film’s title refers to her less-than- successful attempts to stick up for herself, to say no, and to set boundaries — not just with her immediate family, but with her employer and her rescue animals.

Early on (the movie opens at one of Laura’s therapy sessions), we learn that our heroine has abandonment issues. Her father, Jack, was gone for long stretches of her childhood and it seems that even when he was around, he wasn’t the most emotionally accessible of parents. Laura has set up her phone so that when he tries to reach her, caller ID warns, “Don’t Pick Up.”

When she finally returns his calls, she learns that he has been kicked out of his retirement home and wants to move in with her. This is a non-starter for Laura. Not only does she still have issues, but she fears that Jack will be a bad influence on her son, Henry, who, for good measure, has just been expelled from school for drawing explicit nude caricatures of his teachers. Luckily, her quirky sister JoJo is willing to take Dad in, even though she lives in a tiny L.A. studio.

Laura’s plan to put him on the first flight from Seattle to California is thwarted when Jack insists that he needs his car (a vintage Rolls-Royce) and he needs her to drive, because his license has been revoked. Sensing her resistance, he ups the ante by confiding that he has stage four prostate cancer and only months to live. Against her better judgment (not to mention her resolution to set boundaries), Laura agrees to the road trip in exchange for money to pay Henry’s tuition at private school. Jack, Laura, Henry and some of their special-needs menagerie climb into the Rolls for the 1,000-plus-mile drive and hours of dysfunctional-family soul-searching, following in the cinematic tradition of countless road trip movies, including Little Miss Sunshine (2006), Nebraska (2013), and this year’s Kodachrome and The Leisure Seeker.

Unbeknownst to Laura, Jack has $200,000 worth of home-grown marijuana in the trunk (wrapped in unused adult diapers) and a list of customers to visit along their route. This allows Heste to introduce a motley crew of characters, including a community of Buddhist monks, an aging art forger, an also aging record producer, and Laura’s boorish and manipulative ex. As expected from any road trip movie, old grievances resurface and relationships are redefined.

For Boundaries, Heste, who wrote and directed the ill-received Country Strong and a bland remake of Endless Love, turned to her own life with (and mainly without) her father for inspiration. At the film’s premiere in New York City, she explained, “I’ve always wanted to understand my father, and this was an opportunity to understand him better. When he was with me, he was amazing. And when he was gone, he left a big hole in my heart. That was something, as a little girl, I wanted to try and understand and also get in touch with some of the anger I felt. I have a huge resistance to anger personally. I kind of swallowed a lot of my anger in the past, so this was a very cathartic experience for me to be able to write about it  . . . . My father was in and out of prison most of my life, but you never ever thought he was a bad guy because he was incredibly charismatic and loving and it was all non-violent crimes. He was just mischievous.”

To bring Laura’s father to life onscreen, Heste chose the “incredibly charismatic” Christopher Plummer. Plummer has had a remarkable career, working steadily since the early 1950s, and most recently replacing alleged sex offender Kevin Spacey as J. Paul Getty in All the Money in the World. For many of us, of course, he will always be Captain von Trapp. At 88, the actor is still devilishly handsome and plays the charming rogue Jack with aplomb. But, despite how irresistible he makes Jack (and he does have some of the movie’s best lines), you can’t help but sympathize with Laura.

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  • Dennis Renner July 14, 2018 at 12:32 am

    I find the resolution affirming (so as not to be a spoiler other than to explain that it does seem plausible given the Plummer character’s character) . . . but I wondered who the protagonist was telephoning late in the movie when she told somebody off with indignant voice and language. I finally decided it doesn’t matter who she called, it was her first decisive “boundary” moment . . . is that accurate or reasonable?