The war between red-state and blue-state mentalities—albeit in the same state, New York—once again becomes fodder for weak dramedy in the gratingly titled Peace, Love & Misunderstanding. An atypically listless Catherine Keener is not terribly convincing as a Reagan Republican and Manhattan lawyer who, awaiting divorce papers from her Kyle MacLachlan-esque husband (played by Kyle MacLachlan), packs up the teen kids (Elizabeth Olsen and Nat Wolff) for some R&R.
Why she chose to unwind in Woodstock with the hippie mother (Jane Fonda) she’s been angrily snubbing for two decades is a curio never adequately addressed. But then, the script, by Christina Mengert and Joseph Muszynski, is sketching drawn-out courtships between its city folk and dreamy locals. How long will Keener be able to resist the granola charms and bedroom eyes of Jeffrey Dean Morgan’s guitar-strumming heartthrob? And how will ethical eater Olsen deal with the moves of an Ambercrombie rent-a-hunk (Chace Crawford) when he’s also an organic butcher?
Meanwhile, Hanoi Jane adopts heavy curls and tie-dye to lodge every easy hippie joke ever made: She’s a weekend protester and the town’s pot dealer who believes in the healing power of crystals, asks her daughter not to “cockblock” her grandkids and says things like, “I prefer not to name animals. They’re nature’s children.” This is the third time Fonda has acted on-screen since 1990’s Stanley and Iris, and though she enters like a bull in a china shop, by the half-hour mark she’s chilled out into only moderately vexing kookdom.
Broadly directed by Driving Miss Daisy’s Bruce Beresford—who, if he’s wondering, still holds a slither of credibility from his excellent Tender Mercies —Peace, Love & Misunderstanding is more tolerable than other late period Fonda outings Monster-in-Law and Georgia Rule. That’s thanks almost exclusively to its Martha Marcy May Marlene star. The proof of a budding actor’s talent is no stronger than in how they handle toxic piffle, and the unexpectedly excellent Olsen sister makes a thrillingly three-dimensional person out of a character written as a series of eye-rolls and banalities. Her alert turn is enough to underservingly elevate this vanilla production an entire letter grade.
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