Boundaries (2018)

R Running Time: 104 mins



  • A terrific cast makes Boundaries an intriguing option.

  • Deals with themes of family strife and conflict, with topical plot points that might resonate with some viewers.

  • While this might be viewed as a negative, Boundaries is a movie that could easily play for years to come on cable television - what a friend calls a “laundry folding movie.”


  • While well-intentioned, Shana Feste’s screenplay has seemingly never seen a trope or cliché it hasn’t liked.

  • All of this adds up to a rather significant disappointment, with much of what transpires feeling forced and the drama ladled in again and again until the movie is full to the brim with “plot.”

  • Tonally imbalanced, the movie never quite shifts from quirky comedy to serious drama very well.


In Shana Feste’s new film, Boundaries, Laura (Vera Farmiga) wrestles with what to do about her son’s continual drawing of nude pictures of his teachers, 12-year-old Henry (Lewis Macdougall) has just been expelled from his middle school. Frequently bullied at school, Henry has also run off his mother’s latest boyfriend and keeps pushing her to let him attend a private, super expensive arts school where he will feel more at home.

Laura is trying to cope with her son’s idiosyncrasies and wants to find a home where Henry can feel confident for once, but the school tuition is a deal breaker. Concurrently, her father Jack (Christopher Plummer) has just been booted from his nursery home for growing cannabis, and, as things always seem to go, he, of all people, has the resources to help Laura and Henry through their plight.

What we will soon learn when Laura and Henry go to pick up Jack from the nursing home is that Laura and Jack have a long, difficult and tumultuous history. For Laura to reconnect with her father, money for Henry’s school may be available, but she will need to re-litigate their past, with Henry old enough to be privy to some of those memories and discussions.

Written and directed by Feste (Country Strong, Endless Love remake), Boundaries serves as a series of scenes and sequences which find bickering family members violating boundaries of all emotional size and shape. Jack has been, from most accounts, a terrible father for stretches of Laura’s life, which makes her reach the decision to not bring him back home to Seattle with her, but rather to try and convince younger sister JoJo (Kristen Schaal) to take him in - she resides in Los Angeles.

JoJo is quirky, Laura is constantly on the brink, Jack is a care-free, devil-could-care one-liner waiting to happen, and Henry is maintaining. Along the way, we meet Henry’s wayward dad (Bobby Cannavale), which fills in more back story as to how Laura has coped since their divorce. Feste’s screenplay attempts to hit moments of drama, dry humor, manic comedy, and blistering, visceral family squabbling in equal measure, with middling returns.

With everyone purposefully pushing everyone’s buttons, Boundaries can be exhausting when it mines the same type of material for laughs again and again. Farmiga is great, but her best moments come when she’s pulling emotions deep from within, and when she is forced to address the vulnerabilities of her character. We learn she is an avid pet lover and open and affirming to any wayward dog or cat that crosses her path, even wearing clothes reeking of cat urine and hiding kittens in her purse in therapy meetings.

Boundaries tries to be that movie that balances the whimsical and the serious, but never quite finds a proper tone. The cast are largely terrific, as mentioned, but Feste seems to lose a handle on what she is trying to say.

Families can be resilient, can learn to look past obstacles, conflicts, and difficult times and retain a love for one another. Here, with everyone at each other’s throats, intermittently asking to be forgiven and appearing desperately unapologetic, Boundaries asks a lot of us.

In Feste’s movie, she unfortunately reduces her characters to be more caricatures than people, something that only grows more and more obvious the longer we spend time with them.


Starring: Vera Farmiga, Christopher Plummer, Lewis Macdougall, Christopher Lloyd, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Kristen Schaal, Bobby Cannavale, Peter Fonda, Dolly Wells.

Director: Shana Feste
Written by: Shana Feste
Release Date: June 22, 2018
Sony Pictures Classics