Nothing's So Funny in Peace, Love & Misunderstanding
Three generations of fine actresses are squandered in Bruce Beresford's Peace, Love & Misunderstanding, an incompetently structured film that pits hippies against squares with the usual wearying results. This head-hammering, clash-of-values family-healing dramedy makes sure to literalize all of its uplifting messages; gentle admonitions about "letting go" are immediately followed by a bright yellow balloon's release into a cerulean sky.
Reeling from her husband's demand for a divorce, pinched Manhattan lawyer Diane (Catherine Keener) drives to Woodstock with her two teenage children for a reprieve at the home of her earth-goddess mother, Grace (Jane Fonda). Diane, appalled by Mom's pot-growing and free-loving, hasn't spoken to Grace in 20 years; her children, Whitman-quoting vegan Zoe (Elizabeth Olsen) and twerpy aspiring filmmaker Jake (Nat Wolff), are meeting their batik-dress-wearing granny for the first time. The teens marvel at Grace's chime- and chicken-filled house and find first love in Ulster County. Diane can't relax enough to get out of her casual-Friday J. Crew dresses and sensible heels, and at first, she recoils from but eventually succumbs to Grace's rituals: anti-war protests in the town square every Saturday, a full-moon-worshipping sister-circle, filled with ululating and a miserable-looking Rosanna Arquette.
Written by first-timers Joseph Muszynski and Christina Mengert and directed by old-timer Beresford (Driving Miss Daisy), PL&M chucks specific characterization and conflict for countless clichés (both visual and oral), pop-psych bromides ("I promised myself I would never enable her again," Diane says after she bails Grace out of jail for weed dealing) and semi-topical headlines (Chace Crawford's butcher of organic meats lectures on GMOs). The caustic sending-up of the pieties of today's Aquarian set that buoyed this year's Wanderlust is absent, as Beresford prefers simpler sight gags of crystal-curing and the kids getting high with Grandma.