There is something kind of groovy about “Peace, Love & Misunderstanding.” The mellow yellow comedy stars Jane Fonda as a 70-something hippie with a passion for pot and protest suddenly dealing with the prodigal daughter who is back in the picture after revolting against that lifestyle years ago. It’s not “On Golden Pond” by any stretch, but it is nice to have Fonda back in the fractious family way.
Written by first-timers Christina Mengert and Joseph Muszynski, and directed with a sentimental touch by veteran Bruce Beresford (“Driving Miss Daisy,” “Tender Mercies”), “Peace, Love” is set in Woodstock, N.Y., and infused with all the highs and high times that, at least in memory, defined the ethos of the flower-power generation.
This is a very rose-colored look at what happened after those free spirits had kids — kids who wished their parents weren’t such counterculture flakes. It goes to unnecessary extremes to fly its freak flag, but still there are occasional small pleasures to be found — mostly due to a stellar cast that includes Catherine Keener and Elizabeth Olsen.
Things start out strained in Manhattan. Daughter Diane (Keener) is an uptight, upright attorney with a proper marriage and two proper kids; then, husband Mark (Kyle MacLachlan) politely demands a divorce. It’s all very civil, no voices are raised, but it unhinges something primal in Diane. Despite her serious career and the starched shirts to match, she surprises herself by packing up the kids — college-age Zoe (Olsen) and high-schooler Jake (Nat Wolff) — and heading home to visit mom after a very long cold war.
So begins a rocky détente between Grace (Fonda) and Diane. Their summer of discontent catches the vibe of Woodstock in full bloom, with all of the wayward beauty and none of the mud. Diane, played with nary a false move by Keener, remains wary. She clings to her old resentments and those starched shirts, though the humidity and a local carpenter/musician named Jude (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) start to soften her up.
With no baggage to speak of, Zoe and Jake slip into an easy relationship with the grandmother they’d never met. And why not? Grace lets them borrow her old VW Beetle, take hits off the bong and counsels them on condom use. Indeed, nearly every “hippie” stereotype turns up at some point — street fairs, street protests, good music, good drugs, good lovin — all shot with a gauzy beauty by director of photography Andre Fleuren.
The film works too hard to keep the highs going — both natural and drug enhanced — as Diane and Grace work though past resentments. The push and pull between mother and daughter provides many of the film’s better moments, but it is most moving when the camera catches Grace watching from a distance as Diane blossoms, a reminder of how Fonda can speak volumes with a look. Zoe and Jake have their own issues as they grapple with their parents’ impending divorce, Grace’s alternative lifestyle, their mom’s growing interest in the dreamy Jude and their individual growing pains.
Olsen, who burst on the scene last year as the troubled runaway at the broken heart of “Martha Marcy May Marlene,"finds a balance between righteousness and reflection as Zoe, a vocal vegan who struggles to stay politically correct. That becomes a challenge when she falls for the local butcher (Chace Crawford of"Gossip Girl,” who is carving out a solid movie career for himself as storm-tossed lover boys).
Wolff, very unlike his rocker self in the Nickelodeon series “The Naked Brothers Band,” taps his inner geek to play an awkward teen with a camcorder and auteur dreams. And Morgan certainly does his part, being easy on the eyes as he cozies up to Diane. There is the matter of the “misunderstanding,” a secret that slips out and seriously rocks the boat.
But this is Fonda’s party. She navigates the emotional bumps, breakdowns and repairs of family life with a kind of soft yet steely resilience that keeps things just short of sappy. And though the movie may putter and sputter a lot like Grace’s vintage Beetle, rarely has head-to-toe tie-dye been pulled off with such flare.