Friday, July 20, 2012

Peace, Love, and Misunderstanding (Brockway)

Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway 

"Peace Love and Misunderstanding"

"Peace Love and Misunderstanding" is the rather tritely titled and self conscious film by Bruce Beresford. The film has such a congenial and quirky cast that it comes across like a photoshopped version of what an interesting Rom Com film  might have looked like. 

We have the usual standard female lead in the indie veteran Catherine Keener, who isn't bad at all here. To be fair she never plays a stinker. Keener has just played so many of these roles that it pours through the eyes like cinematic soy milk.  This is a chuckle of a film that soothes your senses if you happen to be overwhelmed by other jarring films or current events and that's fine, but it won't stay with you, make waves, or give you much to think about.  It is a pleasant idyll that is easy on the eyes, especially if it's rainy or stormy outside. Catherine Keener plays Diane, a conservative New York lawyer who is about to get divorced by the icy and unemotional Mark (Kyle MacLachlan). Diane high-tails it to Woodstock to see her mom Grace (Jane Fonda) with her two cutie-patootie  kids in tow: Zoe (the too talented for this script, Elizabeth Olsen) and Jake (Nat Wolff). The kids go over the river and through the woods to Grandma's house and you guessed it, oh yes indeed, she lives in a cluttered and rambling hippie shack, complete with lots of deer, fowl and yes, the old reliable pot crop. 

Jane Fonda here is little better than Barbra Streisand in "Meet the Fockers". She dances and prances and smokes and paints and serenades the " Universe" And if this were a madcap comedy we would expect her to do these "crazy" things. The trouble is Grandma Grace is partly serious and there isn't many provocative things for her to do. Oh Wow! Don't tell me--she's actually smoking a hookah with her grandkids??!! Hold everything. 

Get out of town.

Fonda is such a wonderful actor and charismatic person that she deserves better. Still, even in this cliche part, she holds power mainly when she talks about Woodstock and Hendrix and becomes a paisley dervish, spinning and unkempt.  There is also a touching montage showing Jane Fonda as she was in the late 60s and 70s as a protester and iconoclast, speaking out against Vietnam. But hey man, that's not enough to keep this trip going.

All the actors here are good but in this story that unfolds like a Lifetime morning movie, all the drama feels limited and letter boxed into some very few punch lines and belly laughs. 
Fonda and Keener have their Big Argument that seems a tempest in a tie-dyed tea pot for all the "Hey, I tried my bests", "I'm sorry's" and the "you're the mother now" moments. 
We know Fonda and her communal crew will have their full moon celebration. We know what's coming. But why reduce Fonda to a drum encircling, pot smoking cartoon? After such a well travelled dialogue that other films have with the hippie movement, why go the Mad Magazine route?

One exception to this pablum in patchouli is the acting of Nat Wolff who elevates his film-geek character to a place of real adolescent shakes. But his  facility in anxiety together with some hip cuteness is a little too late.

I assume that this film  wants to be a somewhat enlightening trip given the shared pathos between mother and daughter, from two opposing philosophical worlds. But there isn't much mellow yellow melodrama here to work with "Peace Love and Misunderstanding"  is thankfully, neither long nor strange and that's a good thing, but it had the potential, especially given the seasoned cast, to be Far Out or at the very least, something to think about and dig.

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