Nothing can bring out one’s inner Richard Nixon like a flight of baby-boomer whimsy that rubs your nose in 1960s nostalgia. Peace, Love & Misunderstanding, a gentle-minded paean to the Woodstock generation, might just make you want to punch a hippie.
God knows this isn’t the first indie film to fall prey to contrivances, inept predictability and forced quirkiness. But what’s so perplexing is that Peace, which screens Thursday through Sunday at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, is made by such talented people.
Its director is the usually dependable Bruce Beresford, whose credits range from Breaker Morant to Driving Miss Daisy. But neither he nor a cast that includes Jane Fonda, Catherine Keener and Elizabeth Olsen can atone for the movie’s surfeit of eye-rolling dopiness.
The opening minutes are a warning of what’s to come. With all the grace of a pothead rifling through a fridge, the picture introduces us to Diane (Keener, Trust), an uptight, emotionally pinched Manhattan attorney whose husband (Kyle MacLachlan, TV’s Desperate Housewives) tells her shortly before their dinner party that he wants a divorce.
The scene, although brief, is so awkwardly staged and emotionally stagnant, it almost seems like a put-on. But it is the catalyst for Diane to load up her college-age kids, headstrong vegan Zoe (Olsen, Martha Marcy May Marlene) and wannabe filmmaker Jake (Nat Wolff, TV’s The Naked Brothers Band), in the car and head to upstate New York to visit the mother she hasn’t seen in 20 years.
Make that the earth mother she hasn’t seen in 20 years. Her mom, an artist named Grace (Fonda), is a onetime flower child with an affinity for pot, promiscuity and Saturday-afternoon protests. Zoe and Jake are charmed by their groovy granny and her recollections of seeing the Dead play Woodstock.
But Diane, who resents growing up in a house full of wild parties, is less amused; “You barrel through people’s lives and you let everybody else pick up the pieces!” Diane fumes.
Fear not, peace-and-love fans.
There’s not much appetite for dredging up hostilities when Grace’s hometown is humming with good vibes. Zoe meets a hunky butcher (Chace Crawford, What to Expect When You’re Expecting) with the progressive soul of Dennis Kucinich, while Jake finds himself smitten with a perky coffeehouse worker (newcomer Marissa O’Donnell). Not even Diane can resist an easygoing musician (Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Watchmen) who charms the irritable woman right out of her armor.
Peace offers only a pretense of familial conflict, since Beresford is as enamored with Grace as Grace is. Brimming with life-affirming mojo and more platitudes than a Hallmark store, she is just what this psychologically wounded family needs. A bit more ambivalence would have been welcome.
Who could possibly breathe life into this? The gifted Keener
tries valiantly, but her character is too one-note for much exploration.
And Fonda, a well-preserved 74 and still a compelling screen presence,
definitely deserves better.