Review: PEACE, LOVE, & MISUNDERSTANDING Wastes a Talented Cast
The new film by Bruce Beresford lays its cards on the table early and then sits there, staring at them. The talented cast, including Jane Fonda, Catherine Keener, and Elizabeth Olsen, is left to twidde their thumbs, dramatically speaking.
From his earliest days in his native Australia, Beresford has been respectful of his source material, subjugating directorial flourishes so as to best serve the story and characters. He's also developed a reputation for his work with actors, creating an environment for outstanding performances, as demonstrated by Edward Woodward in Breaking Morant (1980), Robert Duvall in Tender Mercies (1983), and Jessica Tandy in Driving Miss Daisy (1989), the latter two winning Academy Awards.
Beresford, who will soon turn 71, can't do much to bolster a movie when the material isn't up to snuff, however. Fonda and Keener, especially, strain to put meat on the bones of a family conflict that's been picked clean by dozens of preceding dysfunctional dramas. Joseph Muszynski and Christina Mengert receive credit for a screenplay that is so far past its "sell by" date that no taste of freshness remains.
Keener plays Diane, a lawyer in New York City who is informed by her husband Mark (Kyle McLachlan) that he wants a divorce; their 20-year marriage has long since soured. Diane promptly decides to take their two teenage children -- militant vegan Zoe (Elizabeth Olsen) and budding filmmaker Jake (Nate Wolff) -- upstate to visit her mother Grace (Fonda) for the weekend.
Grace lives on a farm outside of Woodstock, New York, site of the celebrated 1969 music festival. When Diane and the children walk into the house, they are greeted by chickens. They find Grace out in the back yard, at her potter's wheel, and practically the first thing Grace does is relate a weird dream to them.
It's not long before they head to town, where Grace protests against the war, and Diane meets hunky Jude (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), Zoe meets hunky butcher Cole (Chace Crawford), and Jake meets beguiling protestor Tara (Marissa O'Donnell), thus promptly setting up parallel romances for each of the main characters.
That's where the film stops dead in its tracks. Everything has been set up so quickly and so transparently that it doesn't even require conscious thought to suss out where each storyline is headed. Conflicts are trumped up that are evidently intended to test the mettle -- and secret desire -- of each character, but they're phony, with only the most obvious and shallow connection to reality.
Of course the old hippie filled with peace and wisdom and acceptance of others is named Grace. Of course a dedicated vegan is attracted to a butcher. Of course the suggestion that mom curtail her amorous ways will come back to bite more than one character.
The welcome presence of Fonda, Keener, and Olsen as three generations of women becomes frustrating to watch because they're required to expend their energies in behalf of material that is beneath them. On the positive side, such as it is, Olsen demonstrates that she can shine in a supporting role, Keener shows off her exasperated and angry modes, and Fonda makes one remember that, once upon a time, she soared to the heights of her profession, a thought that comes to mind when Keener pages through a scrapbook with photos of a young Fonda.
It's a moment that's meant to remind a daughter that her mother has always loved her. Instead, it brings home the point that Jane Fonda deserves better.
Peace, Love, & Misunderstanding opens in limited release in the U.S. on Friday, June 8. It will be available via various Video On Demand platforms on June 15.