“Peace, Love and Misunderstanding” is a dramedy that wants to evoke purple haze, but has a story too beige and cliched to succeed as a salute to 1960s counterculture – or to do justice to the talents of the woman portraying its flower-powered heroine.
Although mildly entertaining, the movie is a depressing demonstration of how a screenplay can sink a film. And, along with last month’s “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” it rates as a prime contender for the distinction of the year’s most frustrating waste of acting talent.
Directed by Bruce Beresford from a script by Christine Mengert and Joseph Muszynski, the film combines culture-clash comedy with family melodrama in a story that puts a retro hippie spin on the premise of old-fashioned country living being morally and emotionally superior to big-city existence.
The setting is a contemporary Woodstock where 1960s sensibilities (and fashion senses) thrive. Three generations of top actresses star.
With her husband divorcing her, tense Manhattan lawyer Diane (Catherine Keener) drives off with college-student daughter Zoe (Elizabeth Olsen) and slightly younger Jake (Nat Wolff) to visit her estranged hippie mother, Grace (Jane Fonda), in Woodstock.
Diane and Grace haven’t spoken since Grace distributed pot at Diane’s wedding 20 years ago. Immediately, they clash anew, on issues ranging from politics to the interior of Grace’s farmhouse, where chickens roam freely, for starters.
Poetry-writing Zoe and wannabe filmmaker Jake, however, dig Grace, who shares her home-grown marijuana with them and encourages them to pursue the pleasures of love.
Opportunities for the latter apparently abound in Woodstock. Even uptight Diane, attracted to a folk-singing carpenter (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), is affected.
With Grace acting as guide, forgiveness and healing occur.
Beresford, whose films include “Crimes of the Heart” and “Driving Miss Daisy,” has excelled at delivering resonant character interaction, and he shows bits of that quality here.
And Fonda is a force. Ebullient, earthy and nuanced, she gives Grace dimension and the atmosphere a human charge. Still, that material doesn’t offset the story’s overwhelming sentimentality, flatness and unnaturalness.
Grace — who drives a Volkswagen Beetle, holds full-moon rituals, treats headaches with crystals and says things like “I’ll bake some brownies” — is a mass of cliches.
Keener is stuck playing the stock character of a stressed-out urban woman who loosens up and finds fulfillment after meeting a man.
Olsen is excellent but has nowhere interesting to go. Zoe’s love interest — a butcher whose profession offends Zoe’s vegetarian values but, this being Woodstock, is played by Chace Crawford and quotes Walt Whitman — is impossible to buy.
The film ends with an image of a balloon ascending toward the heavens, symbolizing the elimination of baggage. Lucy in the Sky is not impressed.
MOVIE REVIEW: Peace, Love and Misunderstanding ★★