By Kimberly Gadette (doddleNEWS)
More akin to a Jane Fonda vanity project than an actual narrative, Peace, Love & Misunderstanding is so bland that even such schmaltzy femme-oriented cable networks as Lifetime TV might dismiss it for a decided lack of bite.
Director Bruce Beresford has come a long way from such previous fine works as Breaker Morant, Tender Mercies and Driving Miss Daisy. It’s hard to fathom why he decided to take on this woefully flat look at tri-generational conflicts – or lack thereof – poorly written by Christina Mengert and Joseph Muszynski. Set in New York State’s Hudson Valley, the film is more of a simple valentine to those Woodstock hippies still making protest signs and strumming 1969’s greatest hits on their acoustic guitars than an incisive look at mother/daughter misfires.
Moments before haughty guests arrive for a dinner party in her upscale Manhattan digs, Catherine Keener’s Diane gets a rude shock from her husband (Kyle MacLachan’s Mark), who brusquely states that he’s divorcing her. She packs a bag and with her two offspring in tow (Elizabeth Olsen’s bookish Zoe and Nat Wolff’s camera-crazed Jake), she runs off to visit her hippie-dippie mother (Fonda’s Grace) in Woodstock. Five minutes into the film, the plot loses credibility. Suddenly, Diane decides to lift a 20-year ban? One that she initially imposed when her mother sold a few baggies of marijuana to some of the guests at Diane’s wedding? Surely the 20-year punishment didn’t fit the crime, particularly when imposed by an intelligent, rational lawyer. Added to the fact that Diane’s sweet, sensitive kids, now grown, had never bothered to drive the two hours’ distance to meet their maternal grandmother themselves? You’d think Fonda’s Grace had done something unforgiveable … maybe, say, posed for a picture on an anti-aircraft gun in Hanoi.
If the filmmakers had put as much effort into the script as they did in attending to Fonda’s appearance, this might have been a decent movie. Her make-up radiant, her face framed by a long and curly flattering wig, her gorgeous diaphanous hippie garb flowing with every movement of her ever-fit body (she’s taken to hawking exercise videos once again), Fonda is photographed in that gauzy, diffuse key lighting that’s always highly flattering to aging stars. In all of her many scenes, she emotes above and beyond what’s necessary, her eyes frequently welling with tears. While it’s nice to see her looking so well in her septuagenarian years, we still want to view a movie with a story, conflicts and all, rather than some Barbara Walters TV special on the Magnificence of Jane.
On the other hand, Keener’s Diane is depicted with such conservative severity that this, too, challenges credibility. The character grew up in Woodstock; surely she knows that clumping around in heels and corporate boardroom wear won’t allow for much down-home country comfort. And yet … once she loosens up, her character does an 180-degree turn, and suddenly she’s all smiles and jeans.
The idiocy rambles on, turning into a rom-com as the three city folk each find someone to canoodle. The problems are as non-existent as Republicans in these parts; as lacking as the few paltry lines given to such strong actresses as Rosanna Arquette and Joyce Van Patten.
While Elizabeth Olsen creates a striking screen presence (even though it’s a stretch to believe that she’s playing a teen), the writers have her struggle with an issue that evades any real scrutiny. She’s a vegetarian, and can’t help but judge the handsome town butcher Cole (Chace Crawford), who’s obviously smitten. His shop is puzzling in a town like Woodstock: Though he displays a pig’s head in the window, Cole never seems to run into any objection from the gentle townsfolk who, defined by their particular lifestyle, would rather kiss a cow than eat one. Even Grace, who keeps live chickens in her house as pets, seems perfectly pleased (eyes welling up, once again) when Cole makes romantic advances toward her granddaughter Zoe. Huh?
With a title that’s as clichéd as, um, leaving no stoner unturned, the movie’s only surprise is that a director of Bereford’s longstanding reputation would have signed on. Maybe he read the script through rose-colored granny glasses … or maybe Grace baked him an extra-special batch of brownies.
Rating on a scale of 5 trips back to Yasgur’s Farm: 1.5
Release date: June 8, 2012 (available on VOD June 15, 2012)
Directed by: Bruce Beresford
Written by: Christina Mengert and Joseph Muszynski
Cast: Jane Fonda, Catherine Keener, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Chace Crawford, Elizabeth Olsen, Nat Wolff, Rosanna Arquette, Kyle MacLachan
Running Time: 96 minutes