Peace, Love & Misunderstanding
What is it about Woodstock? Every time a movie needs a modern-day enclave of throwback hippies, it’s off to upstate New York. To hear filmmakers tell it, hippies are the epitome of hidebound reactionaries in their veneration of tradition. The only recent example I can think of to buck this trend is Wanderlust. Unfortunately, Peace, Love & Misunderstanding is not nearly as strong as that one.
So, when conservative, high-powered, New York lawyer Diane (Catherine Keener) finds her marriage breaking up, she packs up her kids and heads back to her estranged mother, Grace (Jane Fonda), in Woodstock. It’s not clear why Diane would want to see Grace for the first time in twenty years, and they certainly don’t hit it off very strongly. But whether Diane’s visit makes sense or not, she’s hurting and Woodstock can heal.
Diane’s kids are also in need to healing. High-schooler Jake (Nat Wolff) is an aspiring filmmaker who has no luck with girls, as pretty much every smart, creative, teenaged boy in movies is. His older sister, Zoe (Elizabeth Olsen), is an idealistic student at Columbia who, evidently, needs to learn some moderation or something. I’m not really sure.
Anyway, Woodstock, by the grace of Grace, cures all ills. Vegetarian Zoe meets the young butcher, Cole (Chace Crawford), who is not, in fact, a character straight out of The Jungle. Jake meets Tara (Marissa O’Donnell), who is devoid enough of identifying characteristics that he manages to put down his video camera defense mechanism. Diane meets Jude (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), the ruggedly handsome furniture maker and singer-songwriter. And Grace presides over it all.
For a town populated by unconventional free spirits, it’s a shame that there’s not an original character in the bunch. The only hint anyone has of a second dimension is if they need a reveal in the second act, and there’s precious little of that. The only sort of character development is a steady process of everyone relaxing, mellowing out, and moving closer and closer to Grace.
And that’s really the only way that Christina Mengert and Joseph Muszynski’s script departs from the norm: for all everyone else moves towards Grace’s hippy-dippy lifestyle, Grace never has to change. For all the fights between Grace and Diane, Grace never has to admit to even a momentary lapse of judgement for the story to resolve. Grace and Zoe have to meet in the middle to relieve their tensions, but Grace is fundamentally and incontrovertibly right, and it gets incredibly tiresome after a while.
There is one point of interest, though: Elizabeth Olsen’s first major outing as — if not a completely secondary part — something less than a clear lead, and also her first major role outside the horror genre. And she does well enough with it; Zoe may not be a particularly complicated role, but she’s completely different from Martha in Martha Marcy May Marlene and Sarah in Silent House. As little as this movie tells us in and of itself, it does help illustrate her range.
Worth It: no.
Bechdel Test: pass.