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Dustin's Review

Capsule Review
Peace, Love & Misunderstanding  (2012)
2 Stars
Directed by Bruce Beresford.
Cast: Catherine Keener, Jane Fonda, Elizabeth Olsen, Nat Wolff, Chace Crawford, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Marissa O'Donnell, Rosanna Arquette, Kyle McLachlan, Maddie Corman, Poorna Jagannathan, Katharine McPhee.
2012 – 92 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for drug content and some sexual references).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, June 4, 2012.
When her husband coldly announces he wants a divorce, NYC lawyer Diane (Catherine Keener) packs up her two kids—Columbia undergrad Zoe (Elizabeth Olsen) and teenager Jake (Nat Wolff)—and heads to Woodstock to stay for a few days with her estranged, hippy-dippy mother Grace (Jane Fonda). They haven't seen each other in twenty years, but Grace happily welcomes them into her home. At first horrified with exposing her kids to such a different way of life—one filled with free love, peaceful war protests, and lots of ganja—Diane soon starts to appreciate the slower pace. As she comes to terms with her failed marriage and begins a flirtatious relationship with Jude (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), Zoe and Jake experience their own shots at romance, she with sensitive butcher Cole (Chace Crawford) and he with fellow protester and coffee shop worker Tara (Marissa O'Donnell).

Directed in an unobtrusive, low-key manner by Bruce Beresford (1999's "Double Jeopardy"), "Peace, Love & Misunderstanding" is the kind of human-drawn slice-of-life that's difficult to dislike. Or, at least, it would be if it weren't for its obligatory story happenings and non-event of a conclusion. First-time screenwriters Joseph Muszynski and Christina Mengert have trouble allowing their ensemble to interpersonally develop, leaving it up in the air why Diane would cut off all contact with her mother for twenty years and not even let her see her grandchildren before this particular trip to her house. Sure, Grace's way of seeing the world is different than Diane's (and there apparently was one altercation at Diane's wedding all those years ago), but she means well and seems easy-going enough that it's hard to believe she could have done anything so horrible to have deserved a two-decade cold shoulder. In addition, the three romantic subplots feel undernourished and shoe-horned in, a particular revelation regarding Jude's sexual past brought up and just as quickly forgotten about.

The key to these characters' journeys in "Peace, Love & Misunderstanding" is their gradually crystallized understanding of compassion. People make mistakes and aren't perfect—not even parents, whom kids seem to idealize in childhood. The cast is hardly the problem. As the buttoned-up Diane, Catherine Keener (2010's "Cyrus") has an especially lovely scene where she finds herself onstage at a town festival singing The Band's "The Weight" with a guitar-strumming Jude. Jane Fonda (2007's "Georgia Rule") is an airy charmer as Grace, even if the script isn't willing to explore the pain beneath her halcyon surface. And Elizabeth Olsen (2012's "Silent House") continues to impress with intuitive moxie as Zoe. Pleasant but not exactly leading to anything that can't be predicted in the first act, "Peace, Love & Misunderstanding" has a heart but no identity that isn't reminiscent of other films (most recently, the underrated "Wanderlust"). It's as laid-back as Grace after a bong hit, but probably only half as fun.
© 2012 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman