Review of Peace, Love, & Misunderstanding


Movie Review: "Peace, Love, & Misunderstanding"

-- Rating: R (drug content, some sexual references)
Length: 96 minutes
Release Date: June 8, 2012
Directed by: Bruce Beresford
Genre: Comedy/Drama

Jane Fonda lets her hair down-literally-to play Grace, the grandmother of a somewhat dysfunctional family, in "Peace, Love, & Misunderstanding." Grace is a free spirit living in Woodstock, New York, who is the life of the party. She attends every concert and even emcees several of them. She smokes a lot of pot and drives around in a yellow Beetle with wildflowers painted all over it.

Though Grace seems to not have a care in the world, there is some personal pain behind the party girl. She has been estranged from her daughter Diane (Catherine Keener) for more than 20 years. Diane is the exact opposite of her mother, having decided to join the corporate world as a successful Manhattan lawyer. She married Mark (Kyle McLachlan), an emotionless man who seems to have checked out of their relationship ages ago. Together they have two kids, Zoe (Elizabeth Olsen), who is in college, and Jake (Nat Wolf), who is in high school.

One day out of the blue, Mark decides to ask Diane for a divorce. She is completely floored and needs some time away from New York to clear her head and think things through. With the departure of her husband, she feels the need to be around family, so she heads up to Woodstock to try and patch things up with her mother. Her only proviso is that Grace try to act a little less like a hippie and not smoke or drink around the kids, who join her on the trip and who have never met their grandmother.

The arrangement is supposed to be just for the weekend, long enough for Diane to make sense of it all before delving into the divorce proceedings. She seems intent on only staying for the weekend until she meets Jude (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). Jude is a handsome, charming man who seems to be the antithesis to Mark. Despite her reservations over still being legally married, Diane is instantly smitten with Jude and decides that maybe she needs more than just a weekend away.

Meanwhile, her kids are also falling for the locals. Daughter Zoe is a vegetarian who cares deeply about animals and environmental issues, which makes her instantly like her granola-loving grandmother. Surprisingly, she also falls for a butcher named Cole (Chace Crawford). The pairing may seem doomed, but there is plenty of chemistry between the two, which makes the audience want to root for the success of their relationship.

All of this is being constantly filmed on camera by son Jake, who wishes to be the next Werner Herzog, a German filmmaker noted for his improvisational style. He plans to use the footage of the emotional fallout between his mother and grandmother to make a documentary. As he goes about his plan, he meets Tara (Marissa O'Donnell) at a coffee shop. She serves up the best latte in town, along with a side of instant attraction. They are both in high school and have a somewhat chaste romance that involves little more than making out and hand-holding.

The fact that all three of them would find a romantic interest within 24 hours of arriving in Woodstock strains credibility. Screenwriters Joseph Muszynski and Christina Mengert don't seem to worry about this, since they fill the screen with likeable, relatable characters. The audience is willing to suspend disbelief because they want to see the characters happy.

The actors are all well cast, particularly Fonda as Grace. She bravely gives up the perfectly-dyed blonde hair and professional makeup for a mop of wavy gray hair that shows her true age. Somehow, instead of appearing old, she looks radiant. She seems to be having a ton of fun with her performance, and it rubs off on the audience as well.

"Peace, Love, & Misunderstanding" is a fairly formulaic movie. The conclusion is somewhat inevitable: Diane and Grace are forced to confront and try to patch up their strained relationship. Small indie films like this one often want to wallow family drama, but Muszynski and Mengert wisely steer clear of this oft-used trope. Instead, they give the film enough bubbly moments and broad comic relief to give it a good balance of comedy and drama. There are some touching moments, but this is not a movie you have to take tissues too. Instead, it is fun summery fare with a touch of drama mixed in.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars