For better or worse, Jane Fonda was born to play the hippie grandma in “Peace, Love & Misunderstanding.”
Director Bruce Beresford’s new film casts Fonda as Grace, a relic from the Woodstock era who still abides by that Flower Power mantra. War is bad, pot is good and love should be free and frequent. Fonda brings considerable baggage to the role, but it fits her like a hemp-laced glove.
The rest of the film is as slapdash as an impromptu ’60s sing-a-long, veering from limp counter-culture gags to empty rom-com platitudes.
Diane (Catherine Keener),a big-city lawyer with a weakness for Ronald Reagan, just learned that her husband wants a divorce. So she packs up her two teen kids (Elizabeth Olsen and Nat Wolff) and drops in on Grandma Grace’s rural home unannounced. Grace hasn’t seen Diane in 20 years, so she’s delighted despite the short notice.
The teens immediately take to Grandma. She’s got crazy stories to share about the ’60s, she grows bounteous amounts of marijuana on the sly and she throws killer parties. That doesn’t sit well with conservative (read uptight) Diane, who simply wants to lick her wounds regarding her impending divorce.
“Peace, Love & Misunderstanding” paints Grace and her hippie friends as essentially harmless, cheerful souls who inspire and enlighten the main characters. A wiser, warmer movie would see that the traditionally minded folks could teach the hippies a thing or two as well. But the life lessons presented here flow in mostly one direction.
The romantic subplots are so spare they feel like they were cut out of one of those ensemble pictures like “Valentine’s Day” where each flirtation gets only a few precious minutes of screen time. The main characters swiftly line up with their potential mates, and we endure a series of awkwardly constructed obstacles that get in the way of “Love Boat” style resolutions.
And what on earth does Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s character, a woodworker with a heart of platinum, see in a dour, depressed woman like Diane? No amount of weed can make her character appealing.
After a while, the heaping helping of hippie clichés overwhelms everything on screen, even the vivacious Fonda. Isn’t there a new perspective to be found in these dusty stereotypes? If so, “Peace” prefers to leave them alone. Fonda’s Grace spins tales of giving birth at Woodstock and bonding with Jerry Garcia from her seat at a Grateful Dead concert. She even takes Diane’s kids to the most generic anti-war protest in screen history.
The ageless Fonda is having a blast alternately spoofing and embracing her ’60s image, but the screenplay neglects to share much of the consequences of the hippie lifestyle. Yes, one of Grace’s transgressions caused the two-decade rift between mother and daughter, but frankly the reveal hardly explains the gap.
Everything in “Peace, Love & Misunderstanding” is as ethereal as a gust of patchouli oil, but without big laughs, interesting characters or cultural insights the movie is equally unwelcome.
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