By Joan Ellis
Here’s a piece of summer froth, a reprieve from the summer blockbusters. Peace, Love, & Misunderstanding is peppered with genuinely good actors who could rise to any challenge. Unfortunately, writer/director Bruce Beresford has handed them the sights and sounds of Woodstock ‘69 unaltered for changing times.
As fondly as we may remember it, Woodstock looks silly in this movie, populated as it is by aimless hippies and groupies in advanced middle age. Each character, except for the New Yorkers, has been dipped in the attitudes, dress codes, and mannerisms of the earlier time; but once we accept that discomfort, it’s possible to settle in to enjoy the generational story Beresford has sketched against that background.
On the wings of a divorce request from her husband, Diane (Catherine Keener) heads north to visit Grace (Jane Fonda), the mother she hasn’t spoken to in 20 years. She brings her son Jake (Nat Wolff), and daughter Zoe (Elizabeth Olsen) who are meeting their grandmother for the first time. Teenager Nat sees the summer drama as fodder for the film he is making. Zoe is the perceptive observer. The story unfolds in the town and fields of Woodstock and on Grace’s nearby farm that is headquarters for the multitude of unfolding local dramas.
Grace’s daughter Diane is a smart, laced tight New York lawyer who disapproves of her mother’s role as unreconstructed hippie enabler to the local population that adores her. She asks Grace to tone down her behavior for the sake of her grandchildren, which is a little like asking a puppy to lie still for the afternoon. Any relatives of this elderly Woodstock legend will inevitably draw the attention of the town eligibles; Cole (Chace Crawford), the local butcher, finds vegetarian Zoe while Tara (Marissa O’Donnell), a waitress in the coffee shop, targets Jake.
In a genuinely appealing and credible connection, Diane the banker falls for Jude (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), a leftover from ‘69 who is a statesman of modern Woodstock. When he lures her to the stage for a duet at a Saturday night folk gathering, the audience, quite understandably, melts in sentimental appreciation partly because they do it well, and mostly because we’re rooting for her to unbutton herself.
The inherent clashes over differing philosophies and beliefs are the hurdles that must be cleared between setup and resolution. We enjoy that process because each actor creates a real character. Chace Crawford is a sweet understated suitor to Elizabeth Olsen’s Zoe, and Olsen herself has all the marks of a real player. She’s good. Catherine Keener, always an actor with depth, is excellent as Diane, the precise banker who finally allows herself to come alive.
Is it odd to see Jane Fonda as a grandmother? Not if you’re a member of the millennial generation, but yes, a little, if you stood against the Vietnam War. We’re still kids, aren’t we? I suspect Fonda was doing other things in 1969 and Woodstock just isn’t in her bones.
Joan Ellis’ address on the Internet, which contains her review library, is JoanEllis.com.
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