Character quirks know no limits in the indie dramedy “Boundaries,” a multi-generational road-trip movie that gives both Vera Farmiga and Christopher Plummer richly drawn roles to play. Trouble is, writer-director Shana Feste (the solid 2009 grieving-family drama “The Greatest,” but also that 2014 “Endless Love” remake) doesn’t seem to recognize when the film itself crosses a line — between engaging idiosyncrasy and floundering improbability, amusing and cringeworthy.
When last we saw Plummer he was grabbing an Oscar nod for his remarkable pinch-hitting gig portraying J. Paul Getty in “All the Money in the World.” Here he’s again cast as an octogenarian maverick, making things complicated for his daughter, Farmiga’s Laura, when she appeals to him to help his grandson out of trouble.
It’s actually Plummer’s rascally Jack who calls Laura first, looking for a place to stay when his forever-young pot-growing proclivity gets him booted from his retirement home. She’s not hearing it — won’t even pick up the phone, in fact, permanently saddled as she is with childhood abandonment issues. (The red-alert ringtone is a great touch; her bluntly metaphorical weakness for stray animals is overdone.) But when Laura’s droll teenage son, Henry (Lewis MacDougall, “A Monster Calls”), is ordered to find a private school, thanks to his dubious gift for doodling Robert Crumb-channeling nude caricatures, where else can this struggling single mom turn for tuition?
So a deal is struck: Laura and Henry will drive Jack from Seattle to LA to stay with Laura’s more receptive sister (Kristen Schaal), and Jack will give them the money they need. It’s entertaining that Jack secretly uses the trip as a delivery run to weed customers (Christopher Lloyd! Peter Fonda!) all down the coast, even if Laura’s cluelessness sometimes undercuts the schooled-in-hard-knocks pathos Farmiga skillfully pursues. You might also wonder about Plummer’s agency representation, given the segue from Citizen Getty to oldster grousing about adult diapers. But it helps that Plummer is clearly having a ball playing an expletive-spouting senior-citizen scamp, and that fresh Depends are shown to be surprisingly useful as a discreet dime-bag alternative.
There comes a point where, if anything, it feels as if this is all being played slightly too straight for a movie that hinges on such a contrivance. Maybe that’s the explanation for some painful — and unnecessary — zaniness in the late going, from a costumed lip-sync number with Farmiga and Schaal to one insert shot too many of those Crumb-ly grotesqueries. Sorry, that’s over our limit.
Written and directed by Shana Feste. Starring Vera Farmiga, Christopher Plummer, Lewis MacDougall. At Kendall Square, West Newton. 104 minutes. R (drug material, language, some sexual references, nude sketches).
Tom Russo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.