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Peace, Love & Misunderstanding comes with a road map so clearly marked you couldn’t miss a turn-off or dump in the road if you wanted to. Never for a minute do you doubt where things are headed. The saving grace to the utter predictability in Christina Mengert and Joseph Muszynski’s screenplay is reasonably personable characters and spirited acting by director Bruce Beresford’s cast.
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Older adults, especially those with a nostalgia for Woodstock and the counterculture, make up the target audience although some of Elizabeth Olsen’s new fans, thanks to Martha Marcy May Marlene, may move that demographic down a few years.
Jane Fonda and Catherine Keener play an unusual mother and daughter who, the story insists, haven’t seen each other for 20 years despite the fact the daughter lives in Manhattan and her mother upstate in Woodstock. This means the grandmother has never seen either of her grandchildren, which stretches credibility more than a little.
The two women have diametrically opposite views on just about everything from politics to lifestyle choices, but the only reason given for the estrangement is that mom sold pot to guests at her daughter’s wedding. Okay, that’s a little eccentric but a two-decade banishment!
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Diane (Keener) is an anal-retentive lawyer and political conservative, who impulsively takes “the kids” to see grandma on the eve of filing for divorce from her husband (Kyle MacLauchlan). Fonda’s Grace is an amusing caricature of an image of Fonda that still exists in many quarters — that of an aging, pot-smoking, organic-eating anti-war activist and New Age hippie. Make that pot-growingas well.
Son Jake (Nat Wolff) and daughter Zoe (Olsen)take to this unconventional grandma, who lets chickens roam where they may — one winds up on Diane’s laptop — paints, drinks, parties and entertains men into the night. And by the second day, all three family members are neatly paired with members of the opposite sex.
Diane — who is mysteriously called Diana (as in goddess of the hunt) by her mother — is set up with a local carpenter/singer/songwriter (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), you know, a little salt-of-the-earth to take the starch out of the middle-class attorney.
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Jake, a budding filmmaker never without his video camera, zeroes in on a local girl (Marissa O’Donnell) while his older sister, an animal rights advocate, struggles to resist her attraction to, of all people, a butcher (Chace Crawford).
Grace flits about the household and town, dispensing sage advice and spiritual wisdom to one and all even if they don’t ask. Especiallyif they don’t ask.
So, naturally, Grace’s free spirit rubs off on everyone causing Diane or Diana to loose her frigidity (although not her political convictions), Zoe to overcome her anti-vivisectionist bias and Jake for once to get the girl. Grace even helps Zoe, a budding poet, get over her writer’s block.
Fonda is great fun spoofing her own image to the point you get flashbacks from her and her dad’s old picture, On Golden Pond, where Katharine Hepburnwas the old dame and Fonda the fortysomething mother who so desperately needed to reclaim a parent. That film was overly formulaic too but you wish the writers of this version could’ve found a way to transcend formula with real moments between actors rather than the rote, conventional scenes that exist here.
Keener does her best to play against type as an uptight woman but she’s better company when she thaws a bit. Olsen continues to impress, here with her ability to make something out of a very clichéd role. Ditto that for Morgan.
Woodstock and surrounding towns and countryside play a bucolic place-out-of-time with pleasing views and folksy traditions, decked out with paraphernalia and extras to look like no one ever got over that long ago music festival.
All behind-the-scenes personnel do splendid jobs. Set decorators under designer Carl Sprague ‘s direction have a ball with Grace’s rambling farm house-cum-commune. Every inch is painted or decorated so it looks like the ‘70s never departed while cinematographer Andre Fleuren’s lenses take all this in without undue flash or self-consciousness.
The result is akin to a summer holiday away from the world’s worry where the solution to all of life’s problems is an antediluvian hippie/grandmother. Who knew?
Venue: Toronto International Film Festival
Production Companies: BCDF Pictures
Cast: Jane Fonda, Catherine Keener, Elizabeth Olsen, Chace Crawford, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Kyle MacLachlan, Marissa O’Donnell.
Director: Bruce Beresford
Screenwriters/executive producers: Christina Mengert, Joseph Muszynski.
Producers: Claude Dal Farra, Brica Dal Farra, Lauren Munsch, Jonathan Burkhart.
Director of photography: Andre Fleuren.
Production designer: Carl Sprague.
Music: Spencer David Hutchings.
Costume designer: Johann Stegmeir.
Editor: John David Allen.
Sales: Voltage Pictures.
No rating, 96 minutes.
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