Nothing's So Funny in "Peace, Love & Misunderstanding"
Three generations of fine actresses are squandered in 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 teenaged children in tow 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: antiwar protests in the town square every Saturday and a full-moon-worshiping 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 Bruce 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 dealing weed), and semitopical 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 curing crystal and the kids getting high with Grandma.