Jane Fonda's appearance in "Peace, Love & Misunderstanding" is only her third in a movie in the past 20 years. She plays a flower power granny in Woodstock, N.Y., who serves as a combination earth mother and fertility goddess. She also sells pot on the side.
What was Fonda thinking?
Fonda's participation is being promoted as a gently satiric take-off on her public persona in her progressive 1960s heyday, but what comes across is something else. It's more like a lampooning of what once made Fonda one of the most forceful actresses in America before she embarked on her self-imposed hiatus. Aren't there any roles more challenging for her, now that she's back, than this tie-dyed cartoon?
Grace (Fonda) has been rebuffed by her estranged Manhattanite daughter Diane (Catherine Keener) ever since, 20 years ago, Mom was caught dealing grass at Diane's wedding. Twenty years may seem like a long time for a freeze-out given the nature of the offense, but this is only one of the film's many implausibilities. Another is that, in all this time, Grace has never set eyes on Diane's two teenage children, Zoe (Elizabeth Olsen, better than her material) and Jake (Nat Wolff).
Diane's impending divorce is the occasion for a reunion as improbable as it is inevitable. Showing up at Grace's ramshackle homestead with her brood, Diane – whom Grace insists on calling Diana, like the goddess of the hunt – immediately settles into the old recriminations. But it's clear that she, not Grace, is the one in need of succor, which soon arrives right on cue in the form of a guitar-strumming carpenter named Jude (Jeffrey Dean Morgan).
Not left out are Zoe, an animal rights vegan who falls for the local butcher boy (Chace Crawford), and Jake, who dotes on a coffee-shop cutie (Marissa O'Donnell). Everybody finds a soul mate. The neighborhood is about as believable as Shangri-La, although less picturesque.
The superannuated hippies in this Land That Time Forgot are a grayed-out Woodstock Nation. But, for all their New Age dippiness, they are presented as salt-of-the-earth types compared with Diane, a right-wing lawyer who takes nearly the entire movie to defrost.
It's typical of this film's thinness that Grace and Diane, especially when they first reunite, never enjoy a moment when their guards drop. Director Bruce Beresford and his writers encouraged the cast to play their roles in a single key. This tack is particularly unfortunate with Fonda, who could have made Grace a figure of pathos or resiliency or courageousness – something other than a goony granny.
There's a great movie to be made about the survivors of Woodstock Nation and their children. But in order to make that movie, you first have to respect the ideals of that generation enough to at least give them their due. The scenes in "Peace, Love & Misunderstanding" of oldsters demonstrating and picketing in the streets, worshiping the night sky, getting high at all-night shindigs, and doing the free love thing, are clearly intended as tributes. But they are so inanely staged that they come across instead as satiric jabs.
How about the next time Jane Fonda decides to make a movie – and may it be soon – she chooses a role that allows her to draw deeply on her life's experiences instead of spoofing them. Grade: C (Rated R for drug content and some sexual references.)