"Peace, Love, & Misunderstanding" is a movie that brings generations together. Whether you're a '60s hippie, an '80s yuppie, or a Generation Y activist, there’s a ridiculously broad stereotype here for you.
Bruce Beresford’s meandering comedy-drama attempts to show three generations of women finding common ground, but in the end becomes a shameless pander to the Summer of Love generation. Hippies are now charming old eccentrics who exist mainly to teach the rest of us to stop and smell (or smoke) the roses.
The hippie in question is Grace (Jane Fonda), whom "Dylan once had a thing for" back in the day. With her curly gray locks, flowing dresses and gigantic bauble earrings, Fonda looks like she’s auditioning to play Mrs. Roper in a "Three’s Company" remake, but she’s presented as a spiritual leader and free thinker who says things like, "Your spirit guide brought you to water, but it can’t make you drink." She’s pretty much insufferable from the get-go.
Her estranged daughter Diane (Catherine Keener) is the polar opposite, an uptight Manhattan lawyer who seems to have had a pantsuit surgically grafted onto her body. She hasn’t talked to her mother in 20 years, since her wedding day, when the mother of the bride sold a little pot to some guests at the reception. I guess it’s cheaper than an open bar.
Diane’s daughter Zoe (Elizabeth Olsen) is an animal rights activist who splits the difference between the two, mixing the political ideals of her grandmother with the humorless stridency of her mother. When Diane’s husband (Kyle MacLachlan) suddenly wants a divorce, Diane, Zoe and Diane’s aspiring filmmaker son Jake (Nat Wolff) retreat to Grace’s rural commune in Woodstock.
You can see every single sappy moment in "Peace" coming a mile off, as the three women clash initially, and then, under Grace’s tutelage, Diane learns to unclench her fists and enjoy the hippie commune life. Letting down her hair (literally), she goes skinny-dipping, hangs out with the local hippies, and falls for a hunky local carpenter (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) who is supposed to be a brilliant songwriter. Except that the only song he seems to know is "The Weight" by The Band. And I’m fairly sure he didn’t write that.
Meanwhile, Zoe’s entire character arc involves her falling for a local butcher (Chace Crawford) and agonizing over whether she can reconcile her emotions with her "meat is murder" rhetoric. Really, that’s her big dilemma. Meanwhile, Jake is filming everything that happens, building to the inevitable climax where he shows his completed documentary to all the characters, who all think it’s brilliant, even though we can clearly see that it’s absolutely terrible.
Beresford ("Driving Miss Daisy") lets his camera linger at length over the beautiful landscapes of the region, along with the hippie iconography of Woodstock — the music festivals, the tie-dyed outfits and the multicolored school buses parked in the yards. It’s pretty, but it’s facile, like the entire counterculture has been reduced to a theme park that "normal" people are supposed to visit, get rejuvenated by, and then move on from.
It’s almost criminal to cast actresses like Fonda, Keener and Olsen, who are so good at playing smart, nuanced women, and then give them such pedestrian dialogue, courtesy of the cookie-cutter script by Joseph Muszynski and Christina Mengert. For a movie that’s supposed to celebrate not playing by society’s rules, it’s a film that sticks slavishly to formula, often at the expense of creating interesting or believable characters.