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The Independent Critic

Jane Fonda, Catherine Keener, Elizabeth Olsen, Chace Crawford, Kyle MacLachlan, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Rosanna Arquette
Bruce Beresford
Christina Mengert, Joseph Muszynski
Rated R
96 Mins.
IFC Films
DVD Features: Region 1 Note: Featurette Trailer Widescreen - 2.35 Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 - English Subtitles - English, Spanish

 "Peace, Love and Misunderstanding" Review 
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Despite its complete inability to produce anything resembling originality, it's easy to understand why everyone involved signed on for director Bruce Beresford's latest film Peace, Love & Misunderstanding.

For Jane Fonda, who plays a hippie mom whose uptight daughter (Catherine Keener) has long sense moved away, the film affords her a meaty role not that far removed from some of her better work.

For Catherine Keener, her role as a mother who has clearly rebelled against nearly everything she experienced as a child is a remarkably layered character that seems tailor made for an actress capable of both great emotion and tremendous fun.

On the other hand, for Elizabeth Olsen there's simply a chance here for her to further cement her status as an up-and-coming actress by working with respected vets even if the material itself isn't anywhere near up to her work in Martha Marcy May Marlene.

In short, there's no doubt that Peace, Love & Misunderstanding looked great on paper.

Unfortunately, the film only partially lives up to its promise and that's mostly thanks to a cast that far transcends the rather predictable and even gooey-centered schmaltz of a script from co-scribes Christina Mengert and Joseph Muszynski.

The film, essentially a light family comedy, centers around Diane, Keener's uptight lawyer. When her husband (Kyle MacLachlan) asks for a divorce, Diane packs up her kids, Elizabeth Olsen as Zoe and Nat Wolff as Jake, and heads back home for a getaway with her still living in 1969 mother, whose farm is practically a flashback to Woodstock.

The rest of the film is exactly what you'd expect as mother and daughter at first butt heads but eventually reconcile and the third generation serves, at least indirectly, as the bridge to make it all happen while learning their own life lessons along the way.

Violin strings, please.

But, despite the film's formulaic plot and occasionally insipid dialogue, to completely dismiss Peace, Love & Misunderstanding would be a mistake. The reason for this starts almost exclusively in just how well cast the film actually is and how convincing said players are in portraying these characters.

Sure, we know exactly where Jane Fonda is going in her performance as Grace, who is still a hippie and who is still prone to random acts of protest. Fonda, however, brings this character so lovingly to life that it's nearly impossible to not enjoy yourself along the way if you're willing to surrender to it.

The same could be said for Catherine Keener, though she's infinitely more uptight here and at least pretending to her far more conservative values than those of her mother. Keener's Diane is a prickly, feisty woman whose reluctance to surrender to reconciliation and the charms of life on her mother's farm is played to the hilt with both emotional resonance and comic results. Keener takes this character considerably farther than could have most actresses and, as a result, it's a joy watching the character unfold even if the unfolding isn't exactly a surprise.

As Zoe, Elizabeth Olsen also gets to show a bit of complexity as a young woman whose vegetarianism gets more than a little challenge when she meets up with the town butcher (Chace Crawford). As Jake, Nat Wolff has what feels like the most manufactured character yet he also adds a nice sense of humor and humanity to it all.

In the hands of a good majority of casts, Peace, Love & Misunderstanding would have likely ended up a throwaway film hardly worth your time. In the hands of a gifted cast, however, the film becomes a breezy and fun alternative flick for adults wishing to avoid the bigger budget fare currently in theaters.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic