Jane Fonda, Catherine Keener, and Elizabeth Olsen let loose and lead a game ensemble cast in the hippy comedy ‘Peace, Love, & Misunderstanding’, a lighthearted flick that caught me a bit by surprise. To be honest, I’ve come to no longer expect much of anything from a Bruce Beresford film, but lo and behold he’s engineered a funny, smooth, and witty comedy while also getting some strong acting from his ensemble of talented actors and actresses (especially from Fonda, who could be gunning for some Oscar love with this baity role). The script is sometimes a bit unsure of itself when transitioning back and forth from comedy to drama, but that’s only a small complaint, since most of the time you’re thoroughly charmed by it. It’s a hard film to have any real issues with. It’s not groundbreaking or anything like that, but it’s more amusing, more honest, and more entertaining than you’d expect it to be. It’s one of the better surprises of the year so far. Manhattan meets Woodstock, and the resulting culture clash is good for a number of laughs. I quite enjoyed this flick, and I expect that you will too now that it’s opened in theaters (I saw it a few months ago but have been under embargo). Give it a shot…I doubt you’ll regret it.
The plot isn’t too original, but its execution is where the praise is deserved. It’s your basic story of the uptight learning from a hippie and vice-versa, but it’s in the smaller character moments where you recognize the strength of this flick. Diane (Keener) is about to get divorced from her husband Mark (Kyle MacLachlan). They’ve become incredibly distant and it’s a more or less amicable divorce. Almost on a whim, she decides to take her kids Zoe (Olsen) and Jake (Nat Wolff) upstate from Manhattan to Woodstock to see her estranged hippie mother Grace (Fonda). They haven’t talked in over a decade, ever since she had her arrested for selling pot at her wedding. They haven’t been there long before Diane begins to realize she didn’t hate her old life as much as she thinks she had and decides to stay for a bit, aided by a flirtation with the charming hippie Jude (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). Zoe is initially annoyed, but then the surprisingly deep Cole (Chace Crawford) catches her eye. Jake just wants to meet a girl and make a movie. All the while, Grace is floating around giving odd advice and just living her life. Of course they all learn from each other (mainly involving Grace and someone else for the most part), but it’s entertaining enough that you never mind when the plot stops doing much of anything or when the contrivances begin. It remains a good time.
Catherine Keener and Elizabeth Olsen may have slightly more screen time overall and more character developments (and do fine jobs to boot), but Jane Fonda is the heart and soul of this film and may be able to enter the Best Supporting Actress conversation (I doubt that she’d go Lead, it’s possible category fraud and would also pretty much stonewall her chances for a nod). Fonda is having a ball with this role, relishing the role of the “cool” grandmother, and it’s great to see her really dive right in again. She’s easily the best part of this flick. As for Keener, she’s her normal and reliable self, though this role has her buttoned up a bit too much for my tastes. Olsen, however, gets some good moments to shine and does nothing to shake the notion that she’s among the most exciting young actresses in the business. Jeffrey Dean Morgan is kind of reprising his role from ‘P.S. I Love You’, but it works, and Chace Crawford appropriately smolders while defying Zoe’s expectations. Nat Wolf is fine, but Kyle MacLachlan is wasted. The rest of the cast includes Rosanna Arquette in a small role, Katherine McPhee, and Marissa O’Donnell, among others, but as I said before…this is Fonda’s film,
Director Bruce Beresford makes this his best movie since possibly ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ by letting the material work for him. He really excels at showing the warms and uniqueness of the upstate New York locale, and it helps the flick tremendously. If this is Beresford’s return to quality filmmaking, I’m quite pleased. Even if it’s only a temporary return to form, I’ll take it. As for the script, it’s credited to Christina Mengert and Joseph Muszynski, and while it’s the weakest part of the film, it’s still solid enough to make this a success. They’re new on the scene and can only grow from here. Everyone involved knew how to make this a good time, and in that regard they clearly succeeded.
In the end, there’s plenty to like about ‘Peace, Love, & Misunderstanding’. It’s breezy, funny, and really well acted. Jane Fonda is excellent and can possibly find herself in Oscar talk for Supporting Actress if things break the right way, while Elizabeth Olsen continues to show why she’s one of Hollywood’s most promising newcomers. Catherine Keener is reliable as always. Overall, it’s one of the more pleasant surprises of the year. I often had a smile on my face and was entertained throughout. Big thumbs up here from me!
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Tags: Bruce Beresford, Catherine Keener, Early Review, Elizabeth Olsen, Jane Fonda, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Kyle MacLachlan, Oscar hopeful, Peace Love & Misunderstanding