Peace, Love, & Misunderstanding: movie review (+trailer)

Life is a journey, but Fonda tripped out.

IFC Films/AP
From left, Elizabeth Olsen, Jane Fonda, and Catherine Keener in a scene from ‘Peace, Love & Misunderstanding.’

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.)

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to