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Movie review: What’s so funny about ‘Peace, Love & Misunderstanding?’

Dennis King Published: June 29, 2012

Besides making tepid wordplay with Nick Lowe’s ’70s flower-power rock anthem, “Peace, Love & Misunderstanding” compounds its sins by wasting strong performances by a trio of fine female leads in a bland, cliché-riddled hippie soap opera.

Elizabeth Olsen, Jane Fonda, Catherine Keener
Elizabeth Olsen, Jane Fonda, Catherine Keener

With Jane Fonda taking on only her third role in 20 years, with sharp turns by the always edgy Catherine Keener and smart newcomer Elizabeth Olsen, it would seem that this three-generational tale of a salty Woodstock Nation survivor, her brittle establishment daughter and uptight, Ivy League-bound granddaughter has a lot going for it.

But Australian director Bruce Beresford clearly has lost a step or two since his “Breaker Morant” and “Tender Mercies” days, and lately his resume has featured mostly made-for-TV movies and plodding efforts such as “Mao’s Last Dancer.”

In bringing first-timers Joseph Muszynski and Christina Mengart’s highly implausible script to the screen, Beresford simply fails to bring forth enough comic or dramatic substance to keep his strong cast fully engaged.

The story sets up an unlikely scenario for bickering among a hippie-dippy mama, her right-wing lawyer daughter and her vegan-activist granddaughter. The seeds of conflict were planted 20 years earlier when free-spirited Grace (Fonda) was caught selling grass at the wedding of her prickly daughter Diane (Keener). During their prolonged estrangement, Diane became a high-powered Manhattan lawyer and had two children – Zoe (Olsen) and Jake (Nat Wolff) – whom Grandma has never met.

That is, until Grace’s marriage falls apart and she packs up her two teens and travels to Grace’s ramshackle upstate New York pad to nurse her wounds. But far from reconciling, mother and daughter dredge up old recriminations, and complications quickly ensue – domestic, romantic and otherwise.

In short order, Diane goes all moony-eyed when a hunky, guitar-strumming local carpenter named Jude (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) shows up to fix something. Then Zoe, a tart animal-rights activist, predictably falls for a handsome local butcher’s assistant (Chace Crawford), while young Jake goes for a cute coffee-shop waitress (Marissa O’Donnell).

Fonda, in what might be considered a mild satire on her firebrand ’60s persona, floats above it all with Deadhead, deadpan grace. Dispensing loads of peacenik wisdom and movie magic – plus more than a little marijuana – she’s the Earth mother who engineers pat and predictable happy endings all around.

While it’s nice to witness Keener’s zestfully shrewish demeanor slowly soften and Olsen’s rigid idealism leavened with romance, it’s Fonda who makes this mushy mishmash most palatable. If only she’d chosen better material to merit her rare return to the big screen. “Peace, Love & Misunderstanding” isn’t so much a bad trip as a truly bland one.

- Dennis King

“Peace, Love & Misunderstanding”

 

R

1:36

2 stars

Starring: Elizabeth Olsen, Jane Fonda, Catherine Keener, Jeffrey Dean Morgan

(Drug content and sexual references)