By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — It’s agreeable, it’s pleasant, and it’s relaxed.
These qualities, so often cited as flaws and limitations of unambitious movies, are exactly what make Peace, Love, & Misunderstanding such an endearing bundle of fittingly low-key charm.
Peace, Love, & Misunderstanding is a family comedy-drama revolving around three generations of women in a fractious family and their particular culture clashes and accords.
Catherine Keener plays Diana, a straight-laced corporate lawyer in New York City whose husband, played by Kyle MacLachlan, opens the movie by asking for a divorce.
The next day she and her two children -– a headstrong vegetarian Columbia University freshman (Elizabeth Olsen) and a timid high-schooler videographer (Nat Wolff) -– get in the car and head for Woodstock, NY, where echoes of the 1969 festival continue to resound.
They drop in unannounced to spend some time with Diana’s mother, the kids’ aging-hippie, pot-dealing grandmother Grace, a former flower child and present flower adult played in a nuanced star turn by Jane (absence-makes-the-heart-grow) Fonda, whom disapproving, law-abiding Diana hasn’t seen or spoken to in 20 years and whom the kids have never met.
Grace’s house and lifestyle comprise a microcosm of Woodstock Nation, but what at first seems strange and hedonistic and radically off-putting to these three pairs of Manhattan eyes will come to change each of them in substantive ways.
Veteran Australian director Bruce Beresford (Driving Miss Daisy, Breaker Morant, Tender Mercies, Crimes of the Heart, Double Jeopardy) refrains from digging too deeply into thorny family issues and plays instead to his film’s strengths, which for the most part means his trio of expert female performers.
The reason his movie works so well is the fine works he gets from the three leads.
The script, by first-timers Christina Mengert and Joseph Muszynski, is a bit pat and synthetic in the way that several romances surface, falter, and then revive as if on cue. But the game cast makes it work.
Fonda commands the screen with her usual masterful presence, this time employing warmth, wit, and wisdom instead of her trademark intensity as she even sends up her own offscreen image.
The prolific Keener, in the film’s most thankless role, is spot-on as the common metaphorical enemy of her mother and daughter, slowly blossoming and letting go of her deep-seated anger.
And the preternaturally gifted Olsen (younger sister of Mary-Kate and Ashley) gives yet another superb and precise reading in her skyrocketing career in a role she played before she attracted so much attention in Martha Marcy May Marlene.
The modest and mellow, moderately diverting Peace, Love, & Misunderstanding is a feel-good movie about feeling bad, as well as a dramedy about parent-child reconciliation that is impossible to watch without thinking of Fonda’s On Golden Pond, a parent-child reconciliation piece in which Fonda played opposite her real-life, Oscar-winning father, Henry.
And if it doesn’t quite deserve to live among that kind of heady company, it’s at least worthy of a prolonged visit.
So we’ll understand and understate 3 stars out of 4. Peace, Love, & Misunderstanding is a likable, laid-back lark.