Peace, Love, & Misunderstanding is all about the healing power of hippies. Your tight-lipped husband demands a divorce? No worries. Take a vacation. Leave NYC, drive to Woodstock and your estranged flower-child mom will set you up with a guitar-singing carpenter. Can’t get over some uncool stuff she did in your youth? Join the full moon drum circle and howl at the sky. Teenage kids unhappy about the marriage breaking up? Bring ’em along; there are sure to be adorable, age-appropriate love interests to distract them. If not, their grandma grows excellent weed.
And thus we hit the biggest disconnect in this bright little bauble from director Bruce Beresford (Driving Miss Daisy): Peace, Love, & Misunderstanding might tout the colorful war-protesting, organic-food-eating, raise your own chickens, revel-in-your-creativity lifestyle and make it look like a blast, because who doesn’t want to hang out at a female empowerment bonfire and pass around a hookah with the grandkids? But the script is so pre-determined it seems generated by a computer program, not human beings. Everything you think you’ll see in a movie set in Woodstock is here. Painted bus in a field? Check. Tie dye and dangly earrings and lots of sandals? Check. Discussions of the beauty of fragmentation and other esoteric subjects? Check. Somebody singing The Weight? Twice? Check.
Still, the cast keeps us interested, even the ever-wonderful Catherine Keener, who’s stuck in a thankless role as Diane, a Manhattan attorney whose husband (Kyle MacLachlan), tells her in the movie’s opening moments he wants a divorce. He remains an enigma, but Diane is drawn in broad strokes: she’s a wearer of suits, a killjoy, the disapproving conservative daughter of Grace (Jane Fonda), and she hasn’t seen her mother in 20 years, even though they live in the same state. This is more than enough to make Diane seem like a real jerk, but naturally once she gets back to the old homestead she begins to thaw. She may be indifferent to her mother’s advice and conversational asides about astrology and dreams, but she is not indifferent to hotness and so is swiftly drawn to Jude (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), a local who makes furniture and loves to strum a guitar. Of course his name is Jude. Of course it is.
Daughter Zoe (Elizabeth Olsen of Martha Marcy May Marlene) finds a cute boy too (Chace Crawford of Gossip Girl), and awkward son Jake (Nat Wolff) even manages to steal a few kisses from a young barista, but inevitably the less beautiful aspects of fragmentation occur, and family strife returns. Yet there is no rift so great that a few platitudes can’t cure. If nothing else, you must applaud Peace, Love & Misunderstanding for its cheery insistence that a lifetime of resentment can float away as easily as a helium-filled balloon. The movie may be just as light and inconsequential, but at least never loses its optimistic spirit.
Cast: Jane Fonda, Catherine Keener, Elizabeth Olsen, Chace Crawford, Nat Wolff, Jeffrey Dean Morgan.
Director: Bruce Beresford.
Screenwriters: Joseph Muszynski, Christina Mengert.
Producers: Jonathan Burkhart, Brice Dal Farra, Claude Dal Farra, Lauren Munsch.
An IFC Films release. Running time: 96 minutes. Drug content, some sexual references. Opens Friday June 8 in Miami-Dade only: Coral Gables Arts Cinema.