Clichés, not characters, inhabit Peace, Love & Misunderstanding, a condescendingly simplistic comedy-drama that plays off of tensions between generations and political viewpoints. Manhattan attorney Diane (Catherine Keener) packs up her kids Jake (Nat Wolff) and Zoe (Elizabeth Olsen) and gets out of town, knowing she has a divorce waiting for her upon her return. Jake’s ever-present video camera notes the sign “Woodstock 3 mi.”—but it should read “Shameless Contrivances 3 mi.” For no sooner do the three arrive in the wonderful world of Woodstock than they meet available love interests: hunky-sensitive progressive Jude (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) for conservative Diane, hunky-sensitive butcher Cole (Chace Crawford) for vegan Zoe, and cute-sensitive coffee-shop waitress Tara (Marissa O’Donnell) for Jake.
While Joseph Muszynski and Christina Mengert’s script lays down some speed bumps for the couples, the pairings are never in doubt. The real tension comes between Diane and her mother Grace (Jane Fonda), at whose house Diane must stay. As per the tone set by the script and director Bruce Beresford (Driving Miss Daisy), Fonda tries much too hard to infuse her walking stereotype with comic energy. It’s all so wacky: chickens in the foyer…too much! Look, there’s Jane: around that corner spinning pottery and singing "Scarborough Fair"! There’s a magic bus parked nearby, and mom still protests every Saturday (“Vigilance!”) when not bedding a rotation of local hippie dudes!
Très embarrassant for Diane, who despite being born into this life (according to mom, baby Diane emerged at the famed Woodstock concert, during Hendrix’s “Star-Spangled Banner”), repudiated it twenty years earlier, cutting off contact with Grace. As such, Grace determines to make up for lost time and get her family making love, not war. She goads the grumpy, combative Diane to get her groove back (check) and the kids to cut loose with a smattering of sex, drugs and rock and roll (check, check and check).
To be fair, Peace, Love & Misunderstanding has its moments, and its strength (though wasted) is its credible casting of three generations of women. Keener fares best: incapable of a false note, she elevates lousy material, but even she seems as embarrassed as her character when Diane is compelled to warble “The Weight” with Jude at a local music festival (Levon Helm RIP).
By the time we return to Manhattan to watch the “film” Jake has made of the Woodstock trip and entered into a youth festival (yet another cliché to send eyes rolling), the plot has long since worn out its welcome. Beresford’s picture is for blissed-out Fonda fans who’ll be tickled pink to see her as a kooky earth mother in tie-dyed dresses, busting out crystals and referred to as queen of the hippies (“They say Dylan had a thing for her”). But my advice when it comes to this one: make tracks, not love.
[This review first appeared in Palo Alto Weekly.]