Talented actors caught in cliches
By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, June 8, 2012
The combined acting muscle of Jane Fonda, Catherine Keener and Elizabeth Olsen -- playing three generations of women in a fractious family -- is not enough to lift “Peace, Love and Misunderstanding” above the level of comfortable mediocrity that one has come to expect from former filmmaking powerhouse Bruce Beresford. (The director of “Driving Miss Daisy” is better known nowadays for such middling fare as “Bridge of the Wind” and made-for-TV movies.)
Set in a Woodstock, N.Y., that seems more like a hippie Oz than any place that actually exists in the real world, the dramatic comedy centers on matriarch Grace (Fonda), a graying free spirit and freelance pot dealer who is visited by her uptight lawyer daughter, Diane (Keener), when Diane’s husband (Kyle MacLachlan) suddenly announces he wants a divorce. In tow with Diane are her teenage children, Zoe (Olsen) and Jake (Nat Wolff). They’ve never met Grandma, thanks to an estrangement that has kept Diane from speaking to Grace for 20 years, a falling out over sex, drugs and rock-and-roll. Grace enjoys all three, and Diane, presumably, doesn’t.
Although Wolff -- a veteran of the Nickelodeon television series “The Naked Brothers Band” -- makes a successful transition from child star to adolescent actor in his performance as Jake, the movie really belongs to Fonda, Keener and Olsen.
It’s a shame that the material doesn’t deserve them.
Written by first-time screenwriters Joseph Muszynski and Christina Mengert, “Peace, Love and Misunderstanding” is little more than a cheesy setup for the kind of pat reconciliation that occurs in any given episode of a TV sitcom.
The joke of the premise could not be broader: Grace is a mellow, moon-worshipping peacenik and unrepentant Deadhead, while Diane is a brittle Republican shrew who doesn’t know how to enjoy life. Zoe, for her part, is more like Grace than her mother. She’s a health nut and poetry buff. But her story line focuses less on family dynamics than on her budding romance with the cute local butcher’s assistant (Chace Crawford).
Unfortunately, he smokes, hunts and eats meat.
Fear not. Under the influence of moonlight and a massive infusion of Hollywood movie magic -- not to mention a bit of Grace’s marijuana -- all those obstacles, legitimate or not, will be whisked away in a swirl of pixie dust.
It’s also entirely possible that Diane might find love on the rebound, in the form of Jude (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), a hunky furniture-maker/musician whose kiss, apparently, is more potent than Grace’s weed. After Grace fixes Jude up with her daughter, it isn’t long before the two are crooning classic-rock ballads at the local music festival and canoodling on his futon. Even Jake, in this hormone-addled environment, meets a nice girl (Marissa O’Donnell, playing a sweet-faced barista).
It’s like “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” in the Catskills.
The wit, of course, isn’t quite Shakespearean. When Jude tells Diane that she needs to just get over her anger at her mother -- after a fairly preposterous plot twist premised on the unquenchable nature of Grace’s libido -- Diane likens her resentment to a balloon that she’s unwilling to let go of. No, Jude tells her, it’s more like a sandbag, holding you down.
Maybe he’s right. I felt the same way about the movie, which bogs down a talented trio of actresses with cliches and clunky dialogue.
Contains drug use, sexual subject matter and brief nudity.