The film Peace, Love and Misunderstanding begins with an implausible plot line and never recovers.
Uptight, judgmental conservative lawyer Diane, played by Catherine Keener, leaves her upscale New York City apartment and heads with her two children to Woodstock to stay with her mother, Grace (Jane Fonda), after finding out her marriage has tanked for good.
Diane has been estranged from her mother since her wedding day 20 years earlier when her mom sold pot to the wedding guests. Grace has never met her two grandchildren, who provide the best written performances — Elizabeth Olsen, former Nickelodeon star and Nat Wolff of The Naked Brothers Band.
An explanation is never given why Diane, who is wealthy enough to go to a hotel and “hates her mother,” had no place else to escape except her mother’s ramshackle hippie cottage with a grow room in the basement and live chickens littering the living room floor. Plot tributaries careen from improbable to absurd, running helter-skelter like a dog let loose in a supermarket.
All the clichés about the Town of Woodstock — hippie feminism exemplified by tie-dyed clad middle-aged women hollowing at the full moon shouting “no men allowed,” a straight person shedding her uptight ways by jumping half-naked into a lake, veganism verses slaughtering animals for food, and the mother/daughter pair being cool with the fact that they have both shared the same lover — are presented in a failed attempt to make the film consistently interesting. We see gray-haired flower children dancing around to drums and grandma smoking pot in the grow room with the grandchildren. In a peculiar generation-gap reversal, hip cool grandma and the kids have to douse the roaches fast when mom suddenly comes home.
Soon after arriving in Woodstock, Diane meets Jude (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), a laid-back carpenter who spouts home-spun hippie philosophy in an attempt to loosen her up. In the movie’s most lovely moment, Jude summons Diane to join him onstage (during the portion of the movie filmed at the Rosendale Street Festival) to sing “The Weight.” Then they kiss and love is born. What decimates the believability quotient is that the duet is so good, so well-rehearsed, it is impossible to believe that it was a spontaneous performance between two people who just met.
If Jane Fonda played her character as a parody of her former 60’s persona, then her performance was interesting and funny, but if she took the role at all seriously, then it was embarrassing and worse, slightly pathetic.
Most alarming were her costuming, make-up and wig. In every scene she was dressed in expensive-looking hippie-chic vintage outfits, which could have easily adorned the widows in boutiques on Worth Avenue in Palm Beach. The clothing attracted attention away from the acting and the plot in a way reminiscent of the two awful film sequels to Sex and The City.
Although Jane Fonda promised all of us women “of a certain age” that she would not have cosmetic surgery, her face looked like the skin on a newly constructed drum.
Worst of all was her Fran Drescher-like (The Nanny) wig, a profusion of thick curly and girly black hair three times the size of her head. The perfectly placed silver streaks were as symmetrical as if the grey had been placed there by celebrity hair-dresser Vidal Sassoon. Since, at 74, Jane Fonda is still bone thin with a small angular face, from some angles she looked like a bird wearing a wig.
I saw the film in Woodstock. As I looked around at the audience filled with aging-hippie women, none looked even remotely like the so-called representative of our generation on the screen.
The subject of aging hippies and their adult children is certainly one that could be explored on film. With a better script, Jane Fonda is the best actress to play that role, since she lived it in the sixties. But as a silly, old, pot smoking, free-wheeling granny, hippie fashion plate, her performance failed to be even mildly convincing. It’s worth seeing if only to try to spot the local extras shown in nano-seconds in a few scenes.