Miss the patchouli-scented days of tie-dyed tees, peasant skirts, and psychedelic magic busses? Then Peace, Love & Misunderstanding is for you. Then again, even the tuned-in and turned-out who lovingly call Woodstock home may find little more than overt clichés and condescending humor in this romantic comedy that tries a bit too hard to find love, forgiveness, and understanding amongst three generations of women in Woodstock, New York.
The women are Grace (Jane Fonda), a feisty, fun-loving, free spirit whose pot smoking ways cost her the companionship of estranged daughter Diane (Catherine Keener), a Manhattan lawyer, and Diane’s teen daughter Zoe (Elizabeth Olsen) who has never met her grandmother.
We first meet Diane as her husband asks for a divorce, causing Diane to pack up the kids, including son Jake (Natt Wolff), and reluctantly take them upstate to visit the grandmother they’ve never met. She lives in the nostalgic enclave of Woodstock, which provides screenwriting duo Joseph Muszynski and Christina Mengert a fertile playground in which to visit what should provide an endless supply of pertinent themes and jumping off points around which to build the plot. But even peaceable Woodstock can’t offer enough fuzzy warmth and quirky idealism to overcome a lack of anything for the characters to do. They say a lot, especially stuff about friends and finding a way to open up to the possibility of love, but a heavy-handed metaphor about dropping your sandbag to let your balloon go free – which is later brazenly demonstrated – is neither clever enough to stimulate, nor interesting enough to entertain. All we can do is roll our eyes.
Coming at us with the subtlety of a raging locomotive is a cast of cardboard secondary characters, each with the sole purpose of providing a countering love interest for each of our wounded birds. Grace fixes up her daughter with Jude (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), the sparkly-eyed furniture maker with outrageously white teeth. But a prior relationship between he and an acquaintance gets in the way of his helping her let go of the past.
Vegetarian Zoe’s hook-up comes in the form of a butcher named Cole (Chace Crawford) who blows all of her preconceived notions out of the water by helping her realize she can love someone in spite of, or perhaps because of, their differences. Nerd Jake, who spends nearly all his screen time behind a video camera capturing the most awkward and revealing moments of their vacation for what he hopes will become a life-changing film, soon finds love in the form of a local girl with whom he shares his first kiss.
As we might expect from its distinguished setting, Peace, Love & Misunderstanding is all rainbows and lollipops. One aspect sorely missing from the proceedings is a real source of conflict or emotional tension. What little there is comes from Diane and her mother as they try to figure out how to span the gaps that divide them, but the script continually shies away from any hefty moments by falling back into the repetitive opposites attract formula and the quirkiness of the Woodstock surroundings – including a ridiculously contrived howling at the moon scene involving a coven of stoned-out Boho-clad women.
We can’t help but wonder what kind of film Alexander Payne might have put together with this material. All the elements are there for something greater, including a fine cast that rises above the level of what it’s asked to do, and a setting rich in period potential. Though the anemic script does successfully manage to capture the look and feel of the period (although it often goes way overboard), director Bruce Beresford fails miserably in depicting the real human emotion of a family pushed way outside its comfort zone.
Shamefully, Peace, Love & Misunderstanding misses a huge opportunity to strike with a once-in-a-lifetime cast that features, in Fonda, a Hollywood icon that hasn’t seen enough work in recent years. The filmmakers had in mind breakfast in bed for 400,000, but instead we get the brown acid.
MPAA Rating: R for drug content and some sexual references.
Director: Bruce Beresford
Writer: Joseph Muszynski, Christina Mengert
Cast: Jane Fonda; Catherine Keener; Elizabeth Olsen; Chace Crawford; Rosanna Arquette
Genre: Romance | Drama | Comedy
Tagline: Life is a journey. Family is a trip.
Memorable Movie Quote: "You're welcome to stay, as long as don't mind sharing the nest with a few feathered friends."
Distributor: IFC Films
Release Date: June 8, 2012
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: January 11, 2011
Synopsis: A comedy about an uptight New York City lawyer who takes her two spirited teenagers to her hippie mother's farmhouse in the countryside for a family vacation. What was meant to be a weekend getaway quickly turns into a summer adventure of romance, music, family secrets, and self-discovery.
No details yet available.