The tiny slice of aging hippie in me wanted to give “Peace, Love & Misunderstanding” three stars. I had more fun watching it than I probably should have.
That’s because director Bruce Beresford (“Driving Miss Daisy”) has assembled a strong cast that elevates fairly slight material into something close to a guilty pleasure. And amid a season of superheroes, aliens and fairy tales, at least this is a story about human beings.
It’s especially fun to see Jane Fonda, who has made only three movies in the past 20 years, playing Grace, a hippie-dippy grandma. She is something of a legend in Woodstock, N.Y.
A movie that lines up love interests for each of the three main characters within 10 minutes of the opening is not exactly breaking new rom-com ground. More like predictably soft landings (after a bit of turbulence) for circling planes.
The real bohemian in the cast, Catherine Keener, is Diane, an uptight, affluent lawyer in New York City whose husband (Kyle MacLachlan) announces he wants a divorce.
This sends Diane fleeing to Woodstock with her teenage kids, Zoe (Elizabeth Olsen) and Jake (Nat Wolff), to a mother she hasn’t seen in 20 years.
Grace welcomes the grandkids she’s never met with open arms. When Diane isn’t around, Grace lets the kids visit a secret grow room in the basement (Grandma is a pot dealer) and gives them a pep talk about losing their virginity.
The idea proves tempting, since hottie Chace Crawford (“Gossip Girl”) plays the local butcher. Zoe just needs to get past her scruples about vegetarianism. Jake, meanwhile, is a budding filmmaker who takes up with a local coffee house waitress (Marissa O’Donnell).
That leaves Diane, who gets hit on right away by furniture maker Jude (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). A wrinkle in his past provides some of the turbulence in that landing pattern.
The central dramatic tension is between peace-loving Grace and angry Diane, who has never forgiven Mom for being an earth mother who sleeps around, believes in the healing quality of crystals and howls at the full moon with her gal pals.
Neither romantic breakups nor mother-daughter ruptures come close to convincing anybody that this isn’t a movie about happy endings, surrendering to romance and learning to forgive.
But Olsen, Fonda and particularly Keener are a pleasure to watch. The love interests are a pleasure to look at, and Beresford is a skillful enough director to steer this away from being totally steeped in stereotype — though they might have skipped the brightly painted bus that never moves.
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