It’s an old story: free-spirited hippie parent vs. straight-arrow adult child. And it doesn’t get much fresher in this well-meaning but unconvincing generation-gap comedy from director Bruce Beresford. Working from a script by Joseph Muszynski and Christine Mengert, Beresford makes a wholly benign film about rapprochement between the generations.
But it does have a terrific centerpiece performance from Jane Fonda. If the real-life Fonda got stuck in a time-warp ca. 1970—and was not the famous movie actress—she’d be a lot like Grace, the feisty aging hippie she plays here. As the story begins, Diane (Catherine Keener), a Type-A NYC lawyer, learns that her weary husband (Kyle MacLachlan, briefly) wants a divorce.
Reeling, she packs up her two teenagers, Zoe (Elizabeth Olsen) and Jake (Nat Wolff), and heads upstate to Woodstock to visit her estranged mom, Grace (Fonda). Grace lives in a colorful old farmhouse she shares with a bunch of chickens, her macramé, and paintings, with a pot-growing lab in the basement and a brightly painted bus in the front yard.
The kids have never even met their grandmother, so it’s unclear why disapproving Diane brings them back now, if all she wants to do is bicker with her mom. But the kids quickly go native; Grace takes them to the weekly anti-war protest march (wait, maybe this is a time-warp), where Jake falls for a local shopgirl, while militant vegetarian Zoe sparks with hunky young butcher, Cole (Chace Crawford).
Eventually, Diane too finds improbable romance with scruffy, dependable Jude (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). Keener can’t make heads or tails out of her sour, underwritten character, although Wolff and especially wry, poised Olsen are both great.
And there’s always Fonda, teaching the kids to smoke a bong, howling at the full moon, and dispensing wisdom, regret, and absolution that feels hard-won and genuine. If only she were in a better movie.
PEACE, LOVE AND MISUNDERSTANDING
★★1/2 (out of four)
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(R) 96 minutes. | LJ
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