Estrangement Is So Not Groovy
Near the end of the second act of Peace, Love & Misunderstanding, a sweet, but flawed comic drama by Australian director Bruce Beresford (Tender Mercies), I found myself eager to escape certain of the film's characters. A problem since these characters are intended as the ideal.
The film stars Catherine Keener as Diane, a high-powered, polished Manhattan lawyer whose frustrated husband (Kyle MacLachlan) demands a long-overdue divorce in the opening scene. Devastated and in need of an escape, she and her two children, one played by Martha Marcy May Marlene's Elizabeth Olsen, decide to visit her mother Grace's upstate farm. Grace is played by the legendary Jane Fonda, lightly teasing her own image.
Diane, civilized and conservative, and Grace, a free spirit for whom the musical, psychedelic, and sexual revolutions of the sixties never ended, have been estranged for well over a decade, and the reunion is at first an uncertain one.
Peace, Love & Misunderstanding's design is clear from the first frame to the last, and it is a shade disheartening how unadventurous the enterprise is. To the fiber of its being, it believes in and sides with Grace. Instead of reaching a fairer, nuanced conclusion in which parent and child bridge their philosophical divide and embrace each other for who they are (and who they are not), the film decides upon an oft-told story of those leading a simpler, more relaxed rural existence saving the poor, poor people from the city.
Also, and this is a personal, 100 percent subjective complaint, but I found Grace's lifestyle and friends exhausting after awhile. With their healing crystals, intense devotion to the usual musical suspects of decades past (Bob Dylan, Grateful Dead), indistinct protests (Down with war! Down with the government! Mother Earth! Legalize!), and even more indistinct "Eastern" spiritual beliefs, they become almost too clichéd to invest in. Other moviegoers may find these lifelong true believers charming or even admirable, but I longed for a scene in which at least one among them would admit not every sad feeling or moment of angst can be solved with Mary Jane and a spin of "Uncle John's Band." Such a scene never materializes.
The performances are credible and engaging, even if there is a sense the stars are in their safety zones. The third act hits a few false notes, including a forced twist to bring Diane and Grace's conflict to a head.