Peace, Love & Misunderstanding

Once upon a time there were terms like ‘Flower Power‘ ‘Make Love Not War‘, ‘Peace‘ [always accompanied by the two-fingered V sign], ‘Flower Children‘, and ‘Summer of Love‘ to name but a few that were part of life’s landscape. The people that were most often identified with those terms were called ‘hippies’. Or maybe I should change that to – the people who were described as members of that generation that embraced those terms were called hippies by the establishment media. Yeah, those were the days.

43 plus years later, those terms, except for peace are not in vogue any longer. We don’t hear them in conversation very much these days. But we STILL have hippies. It’s probably true that most of them are what you’d probably now call older folks.

One of them would be Jane Fonda. She appears in the new film Peace, Love, and Misunderstanding which I had the pleasure of seeing at the 2012 Sarasota Film Festival Day 5 which was today. Fonda hasn’t done a lot of film work over the last 20 some years, but she brings her A-game out for this one. She plays a grandmother known as Grace who was not only once a hippie – but for all intents and purposes – still is. She’s got a grown daughter Diane (Catherine Keener) a somewhat uptight New York lawyer who hasn’t spoken to Grace in 20 years; and Diane has two nearly adult children of her own – Zoe in her very late teens, and Jake in his late middle teens (Elizabeth Olsen and Nat Wolff) who have never met their grandmother. Fonda in real life is 73.

Diane has some issues, and due to circumstances that don’t need a detailed explanations here beyond the fact that her husband has just told her that he wants a divorce, she packs up and takes herself and her kids up to her Mom’s (Fonda) place in the country in what is supposed to be just a weekend to chill out and collect her thoughts.

I can hear the question forming in your heads – so, yes, that’s right – this film is set mostly in the vicinity of Woodstock, NY. While time hasn’t exactly stood still, the age of hippies and rock music, pot, free love, and protest is still flourishing in that area in upstate New York.

So off they go to grandma’s house. Fonda’s Grace hasn’t seen her daughter Diane in 20 years. There’s a bit of a awkward reunion with Grace saying she’d just dreamt about her daughter last night. Not quite cringeworthy but it didn’t ring true.

But the kids are quite excited about their grandma, who is very very cool to them. Before the weekend is over Grace will have smoked pot (home grown by Grace) with her grand-kids, and helped them on their way to losing their virginity.

Then slowly but surely, but with a major hiccup that I won’t tell you about, Grace and Diane work out the kinks, and before you know it, the city dwellars are on their way to discovering much about themselves, about being a grownup no matter what your age is, and of course – about romance.

Yes, they all meet romance head on upstate. For Diane, there’s Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Jude, a carpenter-slash-songwriter. Morgan will soon be appearing in the new TV Series Magic City on the Starz network. Zoe will meet Chase Crawford in the role of a butcher named Cole. And young Jake, a virgin as well as a fledgling film maker – he’s never without his handi-cam, will meet Tara, a coffee shop waitress played by Marissa O’Donnell.

Catherine Keener as Diane

Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Jude

They’ve set each of them up with polar opposites. This of course is a sure signal that all will be well by film’s end. And even if there’s nothing bravura about the script  (there’s absolutely no risk taking) – even if you want to call it a by-the-numbers light weight comedy/drama/romance, or simply a-feel-good film  – it still works and is a delightful film.

Jane Fonda as Grace with Elizabeth Olsen as Zoe

This is not to say they everything is thumbs up. For example there’s a full moon celebration otherwise known as a Girls Night Out. They meet out in a field. There’s no men, there’s the full moon, plenty of baying at that moon too. But the key element is the Truth or False Game where each of the women must tell a story or stories – which the group then votes on whether they think the story is True or false, and who ever is wrong has to drink up some tequila. That was good – but the chanting, dancing, and mild attempt to paint this as sort of a women’s independence type of deal didn’t fully work.

One other small point – Fonda as Grace drops names all the time in the film. She tells us that  Jerry [Garcia] of The Dead was looking right at her throughout while performing a particular song at the Woodstock Festival in August of 1969 – and it was probably  true. She claims she had a threesome with Leonard Cohen (most likely true). And she says that Diane was born at the Woodstock Festival during Jimi Hendrix’s set (totally false). Soon every one is drunk.

Of course there was plenty of music in the film. I didn’t know most of the music but when The Band’s song The Weight showed up on the soundtrack – I not only knew it, but I also thought it was super.

One other small gripe is the absolute lack of originality in the various plot threads. You’ll know the result of each relationship as soon as you meet the parties involved. However Grace does do one thing that you’ve not seen in films recently. She raises a few chickens (for the eggs) and allows them to be free-range. This doesn’t mean they have plenty of room to run around in their huge cages. Instead it means they have free run of the house. As in inside the house. As Grace says about the chickens, “They’re God’s creatures – who am I to tell them where they can go and not go.”

I’m awarding Peace, Love, & Misunderstanding a four point zero. I think the film will stand up and be appreciated across three generations beginning with today’s kids who have reached the end of their teen years, their parents, and their grand-parents. So if you are a baby boomer born in the 40’s and 50’s this is a perfect film for you.

Having said that – if your grandparents fit into that group – then take them with you when you go to see this lovely and most enjoyable film. The film was directed by Bruce Beresford, and written by Joe Muszynski and Christina Mengert.

I may be wrong, but I thought I saw Katherine McPhee of NBC’s Smash in this film as singer performing at a local concert. If you see the film please let me know if you concur. [Edit – McPhee was not listed in the full cast/credits on the IMDB, but she was mentioned in Jane Fonda’s blog entry about the film, as well as in Wikipedia. Thanks to reader FD for the follow up.]