Boundaries

★ ★

The trouble with making a feel good movie about a scoundrel is twofold. Either the scoundrel is neutered, which makes them less interesting, or remains a scoundrel, which complicates the feel good vibe. “Boundaries,” a new film starring Vera Farmiga and Christopher Plummer, tries to have it both ways and ends up in the mushy middle.

Farmiga is Laura, a single mom with son Henry (Lewis MacDougall), a house full of rescued animals and daddy issues. “I’m so messed up I can’t even tell my therapist everything,” she says. She’s been working at setting up boundaries with her father Jack—when he calls the name display reads, “Don’t Pick Up!”—but when he gets kicked out of his nursing home due to his “unorthodox“—i.e. “illegal”—ways of making money she agrees to help him by driving him to Los Angeles to live with his other daughter Jojo (Kristen Schaal).

The formerly estranged father and daughter, along with Henry and a backseat full of stray dogs set out for what should be an uneventful trip. Trouble is, Jack is the above-mentioned scoundrel and a drug dealer who fills the trunk with $200,000 of marijuana he plans on selling along the way. When he isn’t dealing they detour to visit old friends, like Stanley (Christopher Lloyd), a nudist art forger and other ghosts from Jack and Laura’s past. As dad gets up to his old tricks Laura sees a different side of the man she thought she knew. But can he really change or is her ex-husband Leonard (Bobby Cannavale) right when he says, “An elephant will always be an elephant. He will never be a monkey.”

“Boundaries” has a fine cast trapped by a conventional script.

Farmiga battles through the family dramedy clichés to portray Laura as vulnerable and protective, a woman who has filled the hole in her heart with her stray animals and a fierce love of her Henry.

MacDougall is strong as a troubled youth who, when he isn’t drawing nude portraits of his friends and teachers to reveal their true souls, is caught up in the adventure of getting to know his untraditional grandfather.

It is Plummer, however, who brings the charm. He’s likely too old to be playing Farmiga’s father but his trademarked twinkle shines through. When Laura says, “You make people fall in love with you and then you leave,” she sums up both Jack’s appeal and his selfishness. Plummer, at 88, is a formidable actor whose mere presence elevates this Cliché-A-Thon from “Old Codger on a Road Trip Part XXII” to “Skilful Actor Transcending the Material.” It’s a terrific performance that nonetheless rings hollow. Jack is a man who only ever cared about himself, who abandoned his family and calls his relationship with henry “a temporary situation,” and is the square peg rammed into this round hole of a feel good story.

In movies like “Boundaries” (MILD SPOILER!!) everyone gets a happy ending but Jack would have been more interesting if writer-director Shana Feste had allowed the scoundrel to remain a scoundrel.

2 STARS