All you need is love.
It is as simple as that in Bruce Beresford's bizarrely predictable yet still pleasant family conflict comedy/drama "Peace, Love & Misunderstanding," set in the combustible no-man's land where liberals and conservatives meet.
While middle-aged lawyers Diane (Catherine Keener) and Mark (Kyle MacLachlan) are preparing for a dinner party in their Manhattan brownstone, Mark announces he wants a divorce. "Great timing," she sneers. He responds that he can no longer live with her anger. There could have been more of a set-up, but it's clear we are not supposed to become too attached to Mark.
After the dinner party, -- a masterpiece of banal conversation among people you wouldn't want to know -- Diane decides she's taking their two kids, Zoe and Jake (Elizabeth Olsen and Nat Wolff), both in their late teens, to stay with her mother for the weekend. Even though, as her soon-to-be ex-spouse points out, she hates her mother.
So -- aren't we surprised when the presumed battle-ax turns out to be Jane Fonda in full hippie time warp regalia, her flowing curls framing a peacefully aged smile under beautifully wise eyes. She and Diane have not spoken for 20 years due to some unmentioned (for now) rift. She has never seen her grandchildren, and she lets her chickens in her house. Her name is Grace. Amazing.
Beresford is known for having a deft touch with these small, personal stories, as in "Tender Mercies" and "Crimes of the Heart," and it shows up here -- although he does give us a scare of flower-child overload in the first few minutes, piling on the '60s references higher than a hippie at Woodstock.
Which happens to be where the story takes place.
Grace went to Woodstock for the festival and apparently never left. The 21st century town is presented as a sort of 1960s theme park, with head shops, an organic butcher and weekly anti-war demonstrations by a protest group that is as cozy as a bridge club. Decor is tie-dye and beaded curtains; Grace is a font of information on crystals, horoscopes and dream interpretations.
No wonder she drives the tightly wound Diane up the wall. But it doesn't take long for all those past hurts to unravel. Within hours of arriving, Mom, son and daughter have met the persons of their dreams, started reconsidering the choices they've made in life and set about embracing the uninhibited liberal moment.
With Fonda in fine form (she could have played Grace flaky, but instead she plays her smart), Keener strong as usual and the youngest Olsen sister acting her age perfectly, the characters draw us in and carry us along on their paths of discovery and reconciliation.
Perhaps it's the honesty written into the most personal moments. When Diane admits to Zoe that her father asked her for the divorce, Zoe shoots back, "Can you blame him?" -- an exchange overheard by Grace, who brings it up with Zoe the next day. Zoe excuses herself, saying, "I was upset." Grace calls her on it, "You were also cruel."
You get the sense that kind of straight talk -- more than peace, love or understanding -- is what was really missing from this torn-up family's life.
And though it's a pat ending, you do root for them when they finally come clean, and realize that the best way to overcome what makes you angry is to let it go.
PEACE, LOVE & MISUNDERSTANDING
2 1/2 stars (out of 4)
STARRING: Jane Fonda, Catherine Keener, Elizabeth Olsen, Jeffrey Dean Morgan
DIRECTOR: Bruce Beresford
RUNNING TIME: 92 minutes
RATING: Rated R for drug content and some sexual references.
THE LOWDOWN: An uptight lawyer reconnects with the eternal-hippie mother she hasn't seen for 20 years.