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Review: Peace, Love and Misunderstanding

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Elizabeth Olsen and Jane Fonda in 'Peace, Love and Misunderstanding'
  • Elizabeth Olsen and Jane Fonda in 'Peace, Love and Misunderstanding'

So your husband just asked for a divorce. What do you do? You take your teenage son and daughter and head for Woodstock, N.Y., to visit your mother, who you cut out of your life 20 years ago because she sold pot at your wedding. Why do you go there instead of visiting a sympathetic friend? Because this is a movie premise and you are required to tussle with your hippie momma for around 90 minutes.

The set-up for Peace, Love and Misunderstanding made me scratch my head, but with a cast including Jane Fonda, Catherine Keener, Elizabeth Olsen, Chace Crawford, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Kyle MacLachlan (for about four minutes) and Marissa O'Donnell, there was ample reason to hope for the best.

So what did I get? A feel-good movie painting Woodstock as an idyllic artist colony where the spirit of the counter-culture never went away. Every story arc is predictable. The screenplay jumps from one festive occasion to another (these people have more parties than the staff of The Office), no matter how much credulity is strained.

But director Bruce Beresford's film satisfies as cinematic comfort food because the warmth seems genuine and the cast does a fine job inhabiting their characters.

Fonda is at her best as Grace, a vintage hippie, anti-war activist, New Age mystic, sage philosopher, sexually liberated feminist and established marijuana merchant. I rolled my eyes at Grace initially - too much, too much - until I realized what I was watching was not intended as a portrait of a natural individual.

Grace is considered a larger-than-life figure by her friends and neighbors in Woodstock. She is a self-created construct - taking bits and pieces from various aspects of the counter-culture to cast herself as super-hippie. The real Grace is in there, but what we see is Grace as her own best artistic creation.

Fonda, who shifted - oft times awkwardly - from one progressive identity to the next back in the late '60s and early '70s, gets the chance here to create a persona smoother and better integrated than the one she lived.

Catherine Keener spent the early days of her film career playing brittle, exceptionally articulate, short-fused characters before establishing herself in a wider variety of roles. As Grace's daughter Diane, she returns to early-career form, tempered with the vulnerability that came later, and proves herself more than able to effectively squabble with Mom while negotiating the romantic overtures of a charming local artist/craftsman (Morgan).

There's more. Diane's kids Jake (Nat Wolff) and Zoe (Olsen) are believable and fun to watch. They each get a potential honey-bunny to interact with clumsily. Vegetarian Zoe's could-be boyfriend, a local butcher, is played by Chace Crawford with charisma and a refreshing lack of posturing.

The various plot threads in Peace, Love and Misunderstanding are familiar and the outcomes well-telegraphed. Comfort food movies are like that. Heck, most movies are like that. Regardless, I enjoyed my time in Woodstock with Grace, Diane and all the affable stereotypes. Thank you, cast, for seasoning the meatloaf and mashed potatoes so nicely. 96 minutes.

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