June 7, 2012
The casting of Jane Fonda as a tie-dyed hippie, smoking her weed and firing up the kiln while listening to her vinyl up in Woodstock, N.Y., lends the bland "Peace, Love & Misunderstanding" an air of nostalgic authenticity. Or gimmickry. Or something in between.
In flashes, when the dialogue isn't trying to nail another plot point with a hammer, Fonda and Catherine Keener (as a newly separated Manhattan attorney) get enough time and room to establish what feels like a plausible mother/daughter relationship, of the 20-years-estranged-and-learning-to-forgive variety.
"Peace, Love & Misunderstanding" treats the Hudson Valley as a kind of Eden, and it is not the first film to do so, merely one of the duller. All is schematic in the extreme. When the attorney's snippy husband (played by Kyle MacLachlan) announces he wants a divorce just before an insufferable dinner party, the news comes as a relief to their budding filmmaker son (Nat Wolff), but it's a huge problem for their daughter (Elizabeth Olsen).
The attorney packs up the kids and heads up the valley to drop in on mom unannounced after two decades, as they do so often in the movies but so rarely in life.
It is a healing visit, full of recrimination followed by forgiveness. The tightly wound daughter opens her heart just wide enough to let in a Whitman-quoting butcher (Chace Crawford). Her brother, always with the video camera, nurses a crush on a sweet local coffee-slinger (Marissa O'Donnell, a bright spot). Keener's character falls in with the local hunky carpenter (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), a Woodstock resident easygoing enough to make Viggo Mortensen in "A Walk on the Moon" look as tense as Bruce Dern in "Coming Home."
The script by relative newbies Joseph Muszynski and Christina Mengert is delivered straight up, with little finesse, by director Bruce Beresford. He shoots the area as a casually interested tourist might.
Keener alone finds the truth between the lines of this routine affair. She can't do much about the lines she has to say out loud, but as all first-rate screen performers realize, words are only part of the story.
'Peace, Love & Misunderstanding' -- 2 stars
MPAA rating: R (for drug content and some sexual references)
Running time: 1:36
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