Christopher Plummer and Vera Farmiga play estranged father and daughter in the road movie “Boundaries.” (Lindsay Elliott/Sony Pictures Classics)
Reporter

Rating: 2.5 stars

“Boundaries” opens with a conversation between a woman and her off-camera shrink. But the real therapy doesn’t kick in until the patient, a divorced, garden-variety neurotic named Laura (played with an appealing mix of spunk and brokenness by Vera Farmiga), embarks on that staple of Hollywood renewal: the road trip.

In the case of this lively if at times labored dramedy by writer-director Shana Feste (“Endless Love”), Laura’s journey to inner peace — found somewhere between Portland, Ore., and Los Angeles — is undertaken in the company of her estranged father, Jack (Christopher Plummer), and her teenage son, Henry (Lewis MacDougall). The former is a pot-dealing ne’er-do-well who’s just been kicked out of his retirement community (but whose claim to be dying is belied by the twinkle in his eye). The latter is a skinny misfit, given to drawing graphic nude portraits of adults that he describes as pictures of their “soul.” That gift has gotten him expelled from his school.

It’s a familiar formula: Cram a group of amusingly troubled characters together in a car — here they’re also accompanied by a menagerie of adorable foster dogs that have been taken in by Laura — and, over the course of several pit stops, they will work out whatever issues they have. Chiefly, those involve abandonment. Jack was never there for Laura or her sister (Kristen Schaal), an L.A. dog-walker and free spirit who has agreed to take in the old man. As for Henry, he still harbors resentment of his father, who left the family years ago.

Needless to say, the itinerary will feature a brief sojourn at the home of the deadbeat dad (Bobby Cannavale), conveniently located in the pretty Bay Area town of Sausalito. Other picturesque way stations include the Big Sur estate of one of Grandpa’s wealthy customers (Peter Fonda), a Buddhist monastery and the home of a hippie art forger (Christopher Lloyd).

Along the way, reconciliation and closure ensue.


Lewis MacDougall is charming as the misfit teen. (Lindsay Elliott/Sony Pictures Classics)

If it all sounds a bit pat, it is. The metaphor of the stray dog no one wants is uncomfortably on-the-nose. And yet the unimpeachable cast makes the best of Feste’s narrative contrivances, not to mention her proclivity for obvious humor: “I need to change my diaper,” Jack keeps repeating — not because he’s incontinent, but because that’s where he’s hidden his marijuana.

Plummer is particularly good, delivering every line of dialogue as if it’s improvised, and with an astringent snort that only partially hides the fact that Jack really does care about people. Farmiga, for her part, never strays into histrionics, although she comes close after allowing herself to be seduced by her caddish ex. MacDougall (of “A Monster Calls”) manifests a similar laid-back charm, allowing Henry’s quirks, and attainment of wisdom, to blossom naturally and without effort, like wildflowers.

That’s the easy, low-grade charm of “Boundaries.” Like the effects of Grandpa’s weed, its performances loosen up — and at times even find the profundity in — a stiff and sometimes silly tale.

R. Area theaters. Contains coarse language, drugs, sexual references and nude imagery. 104 minutes.