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Movie Review: 'Peace, Love & Misunderstanding'

Even Jane Fonda can't save this script


Director: Bruce Beresford
Rating R. Running Time: 96 minutes
Stars: Jane Fonda, Catherine Keener, Elizabeth Olsen, Jeffrey Dean Morgan

This tale of multigenerational conflict and healing has so much potential: Directed by twice-Oscar-nominated Bruce Beresford (Driving Miss Daisy, Tender Mercies), it stars Jane Fonda, who's been waiting to be cast in a role worthy of her talent since returning to the big screen seven years ago. But Peace, Love, & Misunderstanding, written by newcomers Joseph Muszynski and Christina Mengert, is limited by an utterly predictable, cliché-ridden script, cramping the style of some fine talent within the first five minutes of screen time.

See also: Jane Fonda: In her "third act" and loving it.

The story line: When her husband Mark (Kyle MacLachlan) tells her he wants a divorce, type-A Manhattan attorney Diane (Catherine Keener) responds by taking their two teenage kids with her for a weekend getaway to Woodstock, N.Y., to visit her mother, Grace (Jane Fonda), whom she hasn't seen or talked to in 20 years. What was behind the estrangement? Grace allegedly offered pot to some of the guests at Diane's wedding. Grace, as it turns out, is still a weed-growing, spirituality-seeking hippie, and Diane, a political and social conservative, doesn't quite see eye to eye with her.

However, the kids (played by the up-and-coming Elizabeth Olsen, younger sister of the Olsen twins, and Nat Wolff, probably best known for being part of the Naked Brothers Band) are quite taken by their free-spirited grandma, and they, along with their mom, decide to extend their weekend stay into a summer. Granny begins to rub off on her kinder, and, soon, each is paired with an unlikely local. Olsen's Zoe, for instance, who's a vegan, falls for a butcher played by the h-o-t Chace Crawford, and Diane loosens her tightly wound persona around Jude (Jeffrey Dean Morgan of Watchmen), a laid-back carpenter and folk musician.

l-r: Elizabeth Olsen and Jane Fonda in PEACE, LOVE,  MISUNDERSTANDING

IFC Films/Everett Collection

Elizabeth Olsen and Jane Fonda in 'Peace, Love & Misunderstanding'

There's no tension in any of the family interrelations at hand here. We never get to the root of the mother-daughter conflict, or understand how it is repaired almost instantaneously. The comic elements come solely from the laughable stereotypes the characters are called to portray: Grace participates in moon-worshipping ceremonies with fellow Woodstock maidens, while Diane, signaling her inner angst release, literally lets down her hair and lets go of a yellow balloon. Come on!

It is fun to watch Fonda play a caricature of the person many still think she once was — though the 74-year-old actress herself, in recent interviews, has noted that she never was a hippie because, during the Woodstock days, she was living in Paris with then-husband Roger Vadim. Her tie-dyed costumes and zany jewelry are a treat to behold. Keener is always a delight to watch (as is Olsen), though she's miscast here. The Ulster County, N.Y., farmhouse settings of Peace, Love, & Misunderstanding are lovely, and the music and props are spot-on from the early '70s. But bottom line: Don't expect action that dips below the surface.

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