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Jane Fonda Misused in ‘Peace, Love & Misunderstanding’

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HollywoodChicago.com Oscarman rating: 2.5/5.0
Rating: 2.5/5.0

CHICAGO – Jane Fonda portraying an aging hippie seems like a slam dunk. She was a 1960s hippie at one time, right? Well, it’s obvious she wasn’t the type of hippie personified in “Peace, Love & Misunderstanding,” co-starring Catherine Keener and Elizabeth Olsen. Nobody was that type of of hippie.

Taking the route of clichés over character or substance, “Peace, Love & Misunderstanding” is a fable of a survivor from the 1960s era that could be argued as taking place in a parallel universe, or is written (by Joseph Muszynski and Christina Mengert) through people who didn’t experience what that era meant, but this is what they hoped a hippie character would be like. Set in Woodstock, New York (naturally), the narrative plods through a series of groovy references, strung together like mismatched love beads, but signifying stereotypical laziness and producing boredom.

Diane (Catherine Keener) is an uptight lawyer in New York City whose husband Mark (Kyle MacLachlan) has just asked for a divorce. Distraught and confused, Diane gathers her two teenage children, Jake (Nat Wolff) and Zoe (Elizabeth Olsen) and escapes to her mother Grace (Jane Fonda) in Woodstock, New York. It is revealed that Diane hasn’t seen Grace in twenty years, due to her hippie mama selling pot to the guests at her wedding.

Elizabeth Olsen (Zoe) and Jane Fonda (Grace) in ‘Peace, Love & Misunderstanding’
Photo credit: Jacob Hutchings for IFC Films

Grace is a soul survivor of the 1960s, regaling anyone who will listen with stories of giving birth at Woodstock, sleeping with Leonard Cohen and how she survives by “bartering and raising chickens” at her sprawling upstate New York commune. The Woodstock town folk she hangs out with have weekly protests, full moon “be-ins” and jobs such as woodcarving. Love is in the air, as Diane meets hunky carpenter Jude (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), Zoe canoodles with hunky butcher Cole (Chace Crawford) and Jakes hooks up with flower child Tara (Marissa O’Donnell). The healing spirit of hippiedom is about to save the day.

There is a point where a photo album is produced, and late 1960s-era Jane Fonda stares back from the pictures. The memory of her at that time is several times more rich than the hippie mom character the screenplay has given her. Her acting is fine as the persona, but there is a persistent nagging feeling that Fonda is forcing her way through the role – as if Jane Fonda is plugged into the hippie mode it will be natural, but it isn’t. This is due mainly to a weak script, which makes Grace almost impossible to corral as a real person.

Catherine Keener is also given a thankless task as the cold daughter. She is given about 10 minutes of screen time in the beginning to establish she an a opposite, uptight clash to her Woodstock mother. There is no indication that her mother was cruel to her in any way, nor was there was an incident so heinous as to cause a twenty year riff – the selling pot bit is stupid on many levels and doesn’t gibe with the personality the screenwriters have given Grace. Diane denies her mother grandchildren visits because someone puffed some weed? When she is 2 hours away from where Grace lives?

The film does look terrific, and the setting in Woodstock is bucolic. Director Bruce Beresford (“Driving Miss Daisy”) knows his way around composition, and creates a beautiful looking film. In fact, he creates a hippie paradise, with no indication of mobile phones, the internet or computers (until it’s necessary to create a student film that brings everyone together). The tools were all there – the top drawer supporting cast (including flavor-of-the-moment Elizabeth Olsen), the director who knows how to create the atmosphere and Jane Fonda – all wasted on an unlikely premise and dishwater characters.

Jeffrey Dean Morgan (Jude), Catherine Keener (Diane) and Jane Fonda in ‘Peace, Love & Misunderstanding’
Photo credit: Jacob Hutchings for IFC Films

The screenwriters are fairly new, and convinces us that they don’t know much about the 1960s. Like all romantics, they seemed to think about those times as when youth ruled the country, overturned a war and flitted about like tie-dyed superheroes on a cloud of pot smoke, but it was also the era of Richard Nixon, Kent State and political assassinations. There needs to be that balance and complexity when portraying those survivors, happy perhaps to have lived then, but also pragmatic enough to have had their personal evolution through all the subsequent decades.

What could have made the scenario more interesting? How about Jane Fonda as a movie star from the 1960s, still having to relive the mistakes and glory of a life filled with political activism, Oscar recognition, exercise videos, three marriages and few regrets. That energy is worth more than this hippie fantasy.

“Peace, Love & Misunderstanding” continues its limited release on June 8th in Chicago. Check local listings for theaters and showtimes. Featuring Jane Fonda, Catherine Keener, Elizabeth Olson, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Chace Crawford, Nat Wolff, Katherine McPhee and Kyle MacLachlan. Screenplay by Joseph Muszynski and Christina Mengert. Directed by Bruce Beresford. Rated “R”

HollywoodChicago.com senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Senior Staff Writer

© 2012 Patrick McDonald, HollywoodChicago.com

ziggy one of the best's picture

"Peace'Love & Misunderstanding"

I don’t get it this lady was gr8 when she was young and now Jane is even better as she ages I guess she like wine its’ better with age

Manny be down's picture


I grew up watching Jane Fonda and I like her movies then and I love her now

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