How you feel about “Peace, Love & Misunderstanding” will depend on how you feel about aging hippies and the continuing relevance of all things Woodstock. Me, I’m a Johnny Rotten man, so this limp culture-clash comedy with a heart of patchouli just made me want to stab my eyeballs out. Your mileage may vary.
Catherine Keener — who really should know better — plays Diane, a Manhattan lawyer so tightly wound that her husband (Kyle MacLachlan, too briefly seen) throws in the towel in the very first scene. For reasons that never become clear, she packs her two grown kids in the minivan and heads upstate to visit Grace, the mother she hasn’t seen in 20 years.
Grace is played by Jane Fonda, coasting on the fumes of her long-vanished counterculture credibility. The character’s a free spirit who makes pots (check), sells pot (check), sleeps with whomever she fancies (check), and likes to brag about how she gave birth to Diane while Jimi was playing “The Star-Spangled Banner” at Woodstock (checkmate). You immediately understand why the daughter fled into yuppie conservatism as soon as she could, but now the movie wants to reel her back.
There’s a good, sharp farce to be made about the fuzzy-wuzzy idealism of the ’60s generation as it slides into senile dementia, but “Peace, Love & Misunderstanding” isn’t interested. It wants us to like all its characters, especially the self-satisfied ones. So Grace fixes her daughter up with Jude (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), a grinning stud of a furniture maker, while Diane’s prim vegan daughter, Zoe (Elizabeth Olsen), has to work out her conflicted affections for Cole (Chace Crawford), the local dreamboat organic butcher. (He gives her a copy of “The Omnivore’s Dilemma” as a love token.) A scene in which Cole shoots a wounded deer in front of the horrified Zoe is hilarious for all the wrong reasons.
Peace, Love & Misunderstanding
Diane’s teenage son, Jake (Nat Wolff), meanwhile is making a film about — well, “what is any film about?” he repeatedly asks — while trying to make time with a Grateful Dead twirler-in-training (Marissa O’Donnell). Grandma’s out in the backyard baying at the full moon with her girlfriends (they include ’80s movie fixtures Rosanna Arquette and Maddie Corman). The one genuinely amusing scene comes when Grace takes the kids down to her basement grow room; everyone gets happily baked, then has to hide the stash when mom comes home.
Otherwise it’s crystals and smugness all the way, with lectures about dropping your sandbag and letting your balloon fly free, or something like that. “Peace, Love & Misunderstanding” illustrates Diane’s change of heart by having her join Jude for an onstage rendition of “The Weight,” with impromptu harmonies that sound suspiciously prearranged. It’s as if everything screenwriters Joseph Muszynski and Christina Mengert know about the ’60s came from their parents’ record collection. Needless to say, the paradox of a holistic grandma played by a movie legend with a face lift is never explored.
Imagine what a director like Alexander Payne or Lisa Cholodenko could do with this material (not the Coens — they’d be too brutal). Instead, we get Bruce Beresford (“Driving Miss Daisy”), who never once gets a handle on the film’s tone. Maybe you had to be there; Beresford is Australian by birth and “Peace, Love & Misunderstanding” is the equivalent of a tour bus briefly rerouted off the New York State Thruway. What’s any film about? In this case, 96 minutes of brown acid.