Please don’t take this as an endorsement of the film, but Jane Fonda’s casting and witty performance add a clever layer of history to the otherwise dismal Peace, Love & Misunderstanding. This clunky, obvious comedy about a fractured family is ludicrous from its premise on.
Directed by the often great Bruce Beresford (Tender Mercies) with Catherine Keener as Fonda’s daughter, the film is based on a screenplay (by Joseph Muszynski and Christine Mengert) so wrong-headed and hopeless all you can say is: what a waste.
Keener plays a buttoned-down, workaholic Manhattan lawyer, Diane, with a college-age daughter (Elizabeth Olsen) and high-school-age son (Nat Wolff). When Diane is abruptly dumped by her husband, she packs up the kids and flees to see her mother – even though she has not spoken to the pot-dealing, chicken-raising, flower-power mom in twenty years.
Mom - I wouldn’t dare make this up – actually lives in Woodstock and is named Grace. She wears left-over hippie dresses, stages peace marches, drives an old VW Bug and, thanks to Fonda, manages not to seem like a pathetic relic left in the past. What she does seem like is a terrific actress trapped in a nonsensical movie. And Grace looks fantastically youthful because – well, she’s Jane Fonda.
This kind of contrived film doesn’t have to be realistic, especially if it has some charm. But it can’t be totally ridiculous. Who, in a moment of deep emotional pain, runs back to the relative she’s been hating and avoiding for two decades? The kids metaphorically embrace Granny as if they’ve known her all their lives, even though apparently they’ve just met. And among the too-neat romantic subplots – one for every family member - Grace sets Diane up with a song-writing furniture maker (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and sparks fly, then misfire, then .. . whatever. It’s all more of a cliche than the 60’s ever were.
The real-life Fonda of the late 60's and early 70's, of course, was serious, vehement and angry in her anti-war positions, a very different person from the Peace-Love-Flower Child she plays here. Even so, having a true emblem of the 60’s play the decade’s prototypical character was the best choice anyone involved with this film made. Actually, it may be the only sound choice. Fonda’s good-humored performance can’t make the rest of this mess look better, but it does remind us how great it would be to see her in a movie worth her time and ours.
Check out the trailer and hear the cliches for yourself: