Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Genre: Comedy, Drama
Run Time: 1 hour and 36 minutes, Rated R
Starring: Catherine Keener, Jane Fonda, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Chace Crawford, Elizabeth Olsen, Nat Wolff
Directed by Bruce Beresford (Driving Miss Daisy, Her Alibi, Double
Jeopardy, Mao’s Last Dancer)
In the opening scene of Peace, Love & Misunderstanding, Sara (Catherine Keener) is unexpectedly told out of the blue that her husband wants a divorce. In a bit of shock, she grabs her two teenage kids, Zoe (Elizabeth Olsen) and Jake (Nat Wolff), and the three head off to stay with Sara’s hippy mother Grace (Jane Fonda).
One of these days a movie will be made where some drug-loving hippies move in with an uptight Wall Street types, and by the end the hippies learn a few life lessons about how to live a responsible drug-free life. Until then, with Peace, Love & Misunderstanding we get the opposite - yet another glorified hippy tale where the general message seems to be that sex, drugs and rock and roll can cure any ailment.
I’m not a conservative by any means, but regardless of your political tendencies you will feel like you have seen this film many times before, and the leftist spirit eventually becomes grating. Sara is a tight-ass lawyer who is obviously going through a traumatic time in her life. Her mother Grace lives in Woodstock, is a Grateful Dead, pot-smoking, peace-loving gypsy woman who seems to have infinite wisdom when it comes to living life. The message is a tired one – that if us apprehensive types would just loosen up, smoke a little and just free our mind, we'd really be experiencing life. Maybe that's true.
In the film, there is an answer lurking in Woodstock for each of the family members’ problems. Young Jake is a budding filmmaker who walks around filming everyone and everything, and he meets a young lady who goes for that sort of thing. Zoe is a vegan who befriends a hot guy (Chace Crawford) who just so happens to be a butcher, standing for everything that she isn’t. Wouldn’t you know, they both are fans of Walt Whitman?
Sara on the other hand, is being pursued by Jude (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), a fellow hippy-friend of her mother Grace. We’re not sure why Sara knowingly chooses to come to stay with her mother when she so vehemently rejects the free-love lifestyle, but wouldn’t you know, Sara seems ready for a transformation.
The problem with the movie is that it goes way over the top in painting the communal experience as an answer for the problems of the world. Even most hippies I know don’t share such an optimistic viewpoint. Besides this message smothering out everything else, Peace, Love & Misunderstanding is one of the most predictable films in recent memory. Within five minutes of the family arriving at Grace’s home, you can fairly easily predict the outcome for each character.
Underneath all of this though are some fine acting performances, specifically from Elizabeth Olsen and Nat Wolff. The two create a very real brother/sister relationship that makes them at least interesting enough to want to follow. There are some moments of flash in the dialogue that keep the film bearable, and for that I don’t consider the film a complete bust.
Later on in the film, one of the characters makes an analogy – that all of their baggage in life is a balloon that needs to just be released. The problem they say, is that the balloon is tied to a sandbag and just needs to be cut loose.
The same analogy can be made about the film as a whole – there was some real potential for it to soar if only it wasn’t bogged down by the weight of hippy clichés and schmaltzy, predictable melodrama.
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