A 420-Word Review of “Boundaries”, a Film About the Highs and Lows of Dysfunctional Families
Vera Farmiga and Christopher Plummer demonstrate how deep family wounds run in a film that never goes deep enough itself.
Published on June 21, 2018

According to Freud, watching film is an extension of scopophilia, a pleasure linked both to sexual attraction and narcissistic identification — a conflict people also grapple with in relation to parents. So, it's no wonder that the movies love to ponder on parents: the relationships among attachment, shared trauma, inherited messiness. Eve may have sprung from a rib, but it's the kids that always have a bone to pick.

Director Shana Feste's Boundaries (out Friday), is a study of fathers, their daughters, and those daughters' sons. The title is the equivalent of a red herring: no one has any. This must be why Laura (Vera Farmiga) repeatedly tells us she is a mess, underscored by her adopting an eighth pet. Her son draws portraits of naked strangers and punches teachers, which gets him expelled and puts Laura in the perilous situation of having to scrape together private school tuition. She turns to her father, Jack (Christopher Plummer), who has similarly just been expelled from his nursing home for possession of a shit ton of weed. Where does he go next?

"Boundaries" is the kind of movie that reminds us we are in the final lingering days of weed's outsider status, and Hollywood is the last to know about it. The grandpa-with-bad-behavior schtick doesn't get tired, but it feels vague and defined almost exclusively by the fact that the dude smokes weed. He is supposed to be emotionally compelling enough for Laura to still chase him but withholding enough to have fucked her up. Yet it's the kilo of green that tells you that this isn't your grandpa's grandpa.

What follows is a road trip movie of the lowest order. All that's missing is an urn of ashes waiting to be sprinkled cliffside. Who are these people? Apparently messed up, but how? Laura's financial situation resembles her love life: volatile and unstable. But the actual stakes feel merely gestured towards.

When I was in my teens, I found a joint hidden inside my dad's empty bottle of painkillers (nothing more American...). But it was refreshing in how it showed me — for the first time, though not the last — that our parents are just people with their own values and stashes of secrets. The silver screen, however, is always satisfied in using weed as a code switch: the adult breaking bad. The characters in Boundaries are all pointing fingers at who needs to grow up and show more humanity, but watching the film, there isn't one human in the bunch.

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Rod Bastanmehr
Rod Bastanmehr is an arts and culture writer and one-half of the GOOD FRIENDS podcast. His work has appeared in VICE, The Atlantic, Salon, Slate, and the LA Review of Books.
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