[Review] – Peace, Love, & Misunderstanding

22 Jun

Title: Peace, Love, & Misunderstanding
Year: 2012
Director: Bruce Beresford
Writers: Christina Mengert and Joseph Muszynski
Starring: Jane Fonda, Catherine Keener, Elizabeth Olsen, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Chace Crawford, Nat Wolff, Marissa O’Donnell, Kyle MacLachlan, Rosanna Arquette
MPAA Rating: R, drug content and some sexual references
Runtime: 96 min
IMDb Rating: 4.9
Rotten Tomatoes: 27%
Metacritic: 45

Elizabeth Olsen gave my second favorite performance by a leading actress in all of 2011 with her breakthrough performance in the mesmerizing Martha Marcy May Marlene. I thought she did so many things with that performance, portrayed such a wide range of emotions and complex issues that I really couldn’t wait to see what she did next. So this year I saw Silent House, a film she actually shot before she got her star-making role, and that was one of those horror flicks every good young actress has to go through kind of like a rite of passage. That film, while far better than your average teenage-girl-screaming scarefest, was just okay (I gave it a B-) and didn’t really get to provide us with another great Elizabeth Olsen performance, even though she was quite good.

Now I’ve just seen her new film, Peace, Love, & Misunderstanding, and I’m saddened to report that we’re going to have to keep waiting to see Ms. Olsen be as compelling and masterful as she was in Sean Durkin‘s debut feature. This film is actually super well-intentioned, to be honest, but the fact of the matter is that the plot just feels really manipulated, and as such the overall feel of the movie is just too artificial for me to really get into it at all. The actors are good here, that’s true, but the material just kind of doesn’t really warrant their efforts to be honest.

The film, by the way, is directed by Bruce Beresford, who’s actually a two-time Academy Award nominee, for adapting the screenplay for Breaker Morant and for directing Tender Mercies, both films from the early 80’s, though he’s probably best-known for directing Driving Miss Daisy. His profile has decreased considerably in the new millennium though, with his highest-profile work of the past decade or so probably being the Emmy-winning TV movie And Starring Pancho Villa as Himself, which starred Antonio Banderas.

So now Mr. Beresford is back, and so is Jane Fonda, who stars here as a hippie grandmother who lives up in Woodstock in a farmhouse just smoking weed and listening to music. Feels quite fitting watching Ms. Fonda play a character like that, but anyways, she’s Grace, the mother to Catherine Keener‘s Diane, who, much unlike her mother, is an uptight lawyer living in the big city. Diane, however, is going through a divorce and decides to take her two kids to the countryside for a weekend getaway. Diane’s daughter is Zoe, the character Ms. Olsen plays. The best thing I can think about Peace, Love, & Misunderstanding is probably that I can actually see Ms. Fonda, Ms. Keener and Ms. Olsen belonging in the same family tree.

It goes without saying that what was supposed to be a family getaway for a weekend turns into a full summer in which the family learns a lot about each other, romances start blooming with the people from the town, and all the stuff you would assume happens from that plotline do indeed happen. Because Peace, Love, & Misunderstanding is all stuff we’ve seen before. Like I said, the film is totally well-intentioned, and the performances Ms. Fonda and Ms. Keener provide really do give us a sense of their complex mother-daughter relationship and how much forgiveness and understanding has to go into it, but the script is just pretty bad and the really fine moments we get from these actresses are too few and far between.

It’s the script what really prevented me from getting into this film as much as I really would have liked to, because trust me when I say I really would have liked to. But this whole thing felt just formulaic in the extreme, like every little thing was designed not to explore a feeling or something deeper, but just to get to the next point in the plot. It’s all the more frustrating because the events this one is so keen to get going with are actually quite dull, and it would have made for a far better film had we gotten to just get more intimate moments with these characters and really know them.

It’s also really good see Jane Fonda back in our screens. And this role you just know was easy and fun for her to play, the older woman living in Woodstock, holding on the sixties, painting, smoking, loving and having parties in which people howl at the moon. She’s been estranged from her daughter for 20 years, and when Ms. Keener arrives you think that maybe this will be cool, as Grace’s eccentric lifestyle wins over her grandchildren and slowly but surely her own daughter, too. But then the film just diverts to giving us these trite romantic entanglements and the film becomes totally conventional and not really all that good, not to mention that not a single character here is properly developed.

Peace, Love, & Misunderstanding wasn’t for me. It was awesome to see Jane Fonda back on-screen, where she belongs, and even though the material she has to work with isn’t great, she’s always worth watching just to see her have a go at it, and this film only made me more excited to tune into the premiere of The Newsroom this Sunday on HBO. Ms. Keener is an actress I love, and the stuff she does here when she’s silent is brilliant, but unfortunately her character is cluttered with really bad dialogue so that’s pretty much all for naught. And then Ms. Olsen is fine, but again, the material sucks, so I’m still looking forward to see her tackle something worthy of her considerable talents. But, hey, at least they look like family.

Grade: C+

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