Peace, Love & Misunderstanding
Directed by Bruce Beresford
"I had a threesome with Leonard Cohen!" cries Jane Fonda, as flower grandmother Grace in Peace, Love & Misunderstanding, to which a jaded Rosanna Arquette asks, "Who didn't?" and that's the highpoint of this mild comedy about cross-generational romance in old hippie Woodstock. The film seeks to be nothing but a modest diversion, yet there's something to be said for the simple craft of director Bruce Beresford, who stages scenes in an attentive, kindly way. When Fonda's Grace smokes up with her two grandchildren, Zoe (Elizabeth Olsen) and Jake (Nat Wolff), Beresford lets his camera get slightly slippery so that we can feel their pot high, and he has a knack for inclusive editing that picks up on group interactions without ever stressing one character over another. The writing can be a bit paint-by-numbers during the film's various courtships, but there's a very funny bit right at the beginning where a roomful of "cultured" people, led by Kyle MacLachlan, tear apart a couple of major playwrights so that all you can feel is their educated contempt for them, and this makes for a sharp contrast to the Whitman-inspired atmosphere of the film's all-you-need-is-love Woodstock.
As Grace's uptight lawyer daughter, Catherine Keener gives the same constrained performance she's given many times before, but Olsen's quiet, observant quality matches up very well with Fonda's authority and perpetual anxiety to please, which keeps her performing motor running in high gear at all times. Grace is described as "a little intense," and Fonda more than lives up to that description. She has one of the all-time great film speaking voices, a throaty mixture of slightly contemptuous sexual promise and 1950s finishing school diction, and this voice cuts through each scene she's in like a knife. This is a pleasant, small picture, but it's high time that someone gave the seasoned Fonda a meaty role that takes fuller advantage of her starry charisma and acting chops.
Opens June 8