Thursday, June 07, 2012

“Peace, Love & Misunderstanding” – Movie Review




This week, the Summer Semester of my movie class started with a screening of the comedy/drama “Peace, Love & Misunderstanding” starring Jane Fonda and Catherine Keener and Directed by Bruce Beresford.


When a woman learns her husband wants a divorce, she takes her teenage children to their grandmother’s house – but when the visit causes past issues to resurface, can they resolve their conflicts or will they forever be divided by their history?


While preparing for a dinner party, Diane (Keener) is taken aback when her husband Mark (Kyle MacLachlan) asks her for a divorce. The very next day, she rounds up her two teenage children – Jake (Nat Wolff) and his older sister Zoe (Elizabeth Olsen) – and packs them in her car to make the long drive from Manhattan to the artists’ colony of Woodstock in upstate New York. Diane’s ultimate destination is the home of her long-estranged mother Grace (Fonda), whom she hasn’t seen in 20 years – which means this will be the first time Diane’s children will meet their grandmother.

Upon arrival, it is immediately apparent to Diane that Grace hasn’t changed very much – she’s still quite the hippy in her mindset and continuing to live in that lifestyle, remaining mentally stuck in the 1960’s. Despite her age, Grace is still an avid pot smoker and a real true believer in free love with anyone and everyone available. When Grace throws a party in honor of Diane’s visit, Jude (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) is among the invited guests. A handsome, charismatic man, Grace makes sure to introduce Jude to Diane believing that they are a match made in heaven – especially now that Diane is on the verge of a divorce.

As they spend more time together, it becomes painfully obvious to Diane that she and Jude are two very different people – while she has considerably more conservative leanings, he is particularly liberal and made from the same hippy mold as her mother. Despite these differences, Diane and Jude develop strong feelings for each other and she begins to fall in love with him. Just as it appears as though things are about to get serious between them, Diane learns about a secret her mother has been keeping which drives a wedge between them, as well as between Diane and Jude. Will the uncovering of this awful truth cause Diane’s relationship with both Grace and Jude to be irreparable?


If you can put aside for one moment the political transgressions of her past (which may be more of a challenge for some than others), Jane Fonda is one of this nation’s best actresses – and it is for this reason alone that special attention must be paid to any new movie in which she stars. She is now an older woman, roles for whom are few and far between – and the quality of those few that are available can tend to be extremely uneven at best (e.g., “Monster-In-Law”). So, it is with this in mind that having her play a senior citizen stuck in The Love Generation would be a sure-fire sensation – a no brainer. Well, that may have sounded like a good idea in a pitch meeting, but its execution was not up to the expectations her fans.

First and foremost in this weakly-attempt at a “dramedy”, the problem is with its screenplay – one that neither its gifted actresses nor talented director with a stellar track record can salvage, try as they might. While the performances are as good as they possibly can be given the flawed material, it is the triteness of much of the dialog and many of the situations that ultimately is the downfall for this film. This has the look and feel of one of those motion pictures that might’ve been better conceived of as a TV movie for the Lifetime channel. One positive note: Fans of Rosanna Arquette will be delighted to learn that she appears in this movie as one of Grace’s Woodstock pals that attends many of their get-togethers.

Following the screening, our instructor interviewed the film’s screenwriters, Joseph Muszynski and Christina Mengert. The team lives in upstate New York and said that they got involved in the project when a local production company in that area wanted a screenplay that was set in their locale and wound up with a happy ending. Muszynski and Mengert set out to write the script and wound up finishing an initial draft two months later. Regarding their collaboration process, the pair said that they do not write together; instead, they take turns with various portions of the script, writing scenes or portions of scenes, then hands it over to their partner when one of them gets stuck at some point.



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