Jane Fonda gives good hippie, and her turn as a Woodstock resident holding on to 1969 as long as she can is the only reason Peace, Love & Misunderstanding—a paint-by-numbers dramedy from Driving Miss Daisy director Bruce Beresford—is tolerable. At age 74, she’s vibrant and lovely, and she builds her broadly drawn character into more than just a patchouli-scented caricature. In her first U.S. film since 2007’s Georgia Rule, Fonda again plays a parent to whom an estranged daughter reluctantly flees in search of refuge. In this case, New York lawyer Catherine Keener is so shaken by a divorce request from her stiff husband (Kyle MacLachlan) that she takes their teenagers (Nat Wolff and Elizabeth Olsen) to meet the grandmother they know nothing about.
Fonda lives alone, takes lovers freely, keeps chickens in the house, paints and grows pot, and hosts fertility parties where everyone howls at the moon. She’s not much of a responsible nurturer, though the film withholds the reasons for her daughter’s anger with her far too long, and makes them too soft to justify that degree of exasperation. She’s larger-than-life, self-centered, and fun, and the kids are enchanted by her and her lifestyle—even the reluctant Keener is slowly won over. But Peace, Love & Misunderstanding is so eager to stack its deck in favor of Woodstock counterculture that all three visitors also immediately find the promise of romance, which consumes the film with stale hijinks.
Even though the film is about a town where no one seems to work unless it’s to enable a meet-cute, and everyone meets up to protest for peace on the weekend, the film’s newcomers are the impossible-to-believe element—not even Keener can make her brittle, hyper-conservative character into something solid. Olsen, so good in Martha Marcy May Marlene, is stuck playing a judgmental scold, while Wolff waves a video camera around and insists he wants to be Werner Herzog. Even the most tolerant cannabis-dazed townies would get tired of this trio, but this musty comedy makes its chosen location look like a place that exists only to heal refugees from the city, and provide answers for life’s problems.