MPI // 2012 // 92 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron (Retired) // October 29th, 2012
From hippie to dippy in one cinematic swoop...
Jane Fonda? A hippie? Is this someone's idea of a joke? Well, it is actually. Bruce Beresford, the earnest Australian director who brought both Robert Duvall (Tender Mercies) and Jessica Tandy (Driving Miss Daisy) their only acting Oscars, thinks so. Offering the infamous anti-war figure from the 1960s (who earned the awful nickname "Hanoi Jane" during that controversial time) a chance to play flower child must have seemed like the greatest of great ideas, right up there with sliced bread, the folded paper napkin, and splicing dinosaur DNA with frog parts to build an amusement park. Yet the end result, the rather contrived and lifeless Peace, Love, and Misunderstanding (Nick Lowe should sue) does little except let the otherwise age-defiant actress spread her graying hair goofball wings and...well...The rest of this mess meanders around the same staid life lessons that a dozen other derivative films have fostered over the years -- to wit: if you simply let life flow over you with a spirit of happiness and heart, you'll be a much better off and better feeling member of the cosmic chorus, or something like that. All one can say in response is, "Oh brother..."
Fonda is Grace, the Woodstock Nation refugee who never left upstate New York once the last strains of Jimi Hendrix's celebrated set wafted off the muddy dairy farm grounds. Her defiant daughter Diane (Catherine Keener, Being John Malkovich) was born there, has grown up to become a tight-ass lawyer, and has since denied her mother. In other words, they have drifted apart (go figure). Even though it's been twenty years since they've spoken, Ms. Attorney seeks out her pot-headed parent when her husband (Kyle MacLachlan, Dune) demands a divorce. Dragging Zoe (Elizabeth Olsen, Silent House), her distraught vegan eldest and wannabe teen auteur son Jake (Nat Wolff, New Year's Eve) with her, she seeks solace in the woman she's barely recognized in decades. Of course, there's an immediate clash of cultures, personalities, and ideals. But as the sweet smoke flows and the "brief visit" expands to an entire summer, the laid back ways of Earth Grandma overcome the uptight city folk. Before long, they are finding romance among the locals and realizing that being stuck in the '60s is not such a bad mental deal after all.
Argh! Why do we viewers have to put up with this? Why is so much good talent wasted on such a stupid, simplistic story? Apparently, all one has to do in order to fix their otherwise fractured life is get in touch with nature, smoke some decent weed, bay at the moon at least once a month, and set their own inner Wayback Machine to somewhere circa the dawning of the age of Aquarius. A conflict of mores or political mindsets is one thing. Struggling to turn said stereotyping into something significant is apparently way outside the comfort zone for first time screen scribes Joseph Muszynski and Christina Mengert. One has to wonder if they were even born when the Summer of Love found its music fest nirvana, or if everything they're spewing -- literarily -- comes from rumor, innuendo, and fictitious fact. Sure, there must be happening holdovers and random burnouts. After all, the Dude abides. But Peace, Love, and Misunderstanding (maybe Elvis Costello should sue too) dares to dream of a fantasy land where the horrors of human heartache are cured via incense and peppermints.
And, sadly, this land is populated with some fine actors and equally excellent performance. Sure, she's a cliche, but Fonda has fun with her zoned-out grand-groupie. Imagine Meryl Streep from Mamma Mia! with a bit more gravitas and you get the idea. Keener can't compete, but she's not really trying. She's the solemn straight (wo)man here. Similarly, Ms. Olsen and Mr. Wolff are wasted -- no, not in that way -- upstaged at every step by the Woodstock residents who capture their eye (and, of course, their heart). Even Beresford shows the light touch that earned him a continuous career in Hollywood, if not a great deal of award season accolade or respect. No, this is a movie misguided by its mannered and maudlin script. Something sharper, and a damn bit wittier, would have worked wonders.
From a purely technical standpoint, you couldn't ask for a better transfer. Since it was shot digitally with Redcode RAW cameras, the 2.35:1/1080p image is excellent. The colors are crisp and bright, the contrasts easily controlled and details alive with local color. About the only thing you'll miss is the antiquity of celluloid. From a sound standpoint, the lossless DTS-Master Audio 5.1 mix is limited in its surround situations, but overall, delivers clear dialogue and nice ambient elements. The score is unobtrusive and the feeling more light and subtle. As for added content, there's a very minor EPK-lite featurette which more or less functions like an extended trailer, which is odd since the only other bonus is an actual preview. Oddly enough, the movie begins with more coming soon clips that have to be bypassed in order to get to the main menu.
As one of the rare actresses with two Oscars (1971's Klute, 1978's Coming Home) Jane Fonda is one of those famed performers who breathe the rarified air of a living legend. Over the last few years, she's been trying to stage a significant career comeback. Just like the titles that came before -- Monster-in-Law, Georgia Rule -- Peace, Love and Misunderstanding is another misstep...and it's not funny to watch it happen.
Guilty. Like puffing a pipe full of paraquat.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 92 Minutes
Release Year: 2012
MPAA Rating: Rated R