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Mike Wilmington

By Mike Wilmington

Wilimington on Movies: Peace, Love, & Misunderstanding



U.S. Bruce Beresford, 2011

In Peace, Love & Misunderstanding, a kind of cinematic salute/love ballad to the survivors of the 1960s, Jane Fonda plays Grandma Grace, whom you might describe as the permanent ambassador from Woodstock Nation. A devotee of sex, drugs and rock n’roll — as well as peace, love and understanding — and a still sexually adventurous old gal who claims she was once in a threesome with Leonard Cohen, Grace lives in Woodstock in a combination pot farm and upscale painters studio that looks as if it were designed by somebody rich and famous for somebody like Jane Fonda.

Low-slung, expensive-comfy, colored as exquisitely as a fine art print, and flooded by sights of greenery and sunlight from outside pouring through the huge windows like a Joni Mitchell sacrament, it’s a beautiful place and Fonda looks beautiful in it, her hair a tawny, gray-tinged Woodstock mass, her face and frame as Fonda-ish as ever, even in her mid-’70s. It’s a strange observation to make about somebody from the AARP generation, even if she’s a movie actress, but Fonda’s bod seems almost as lithe and limber in this movie, and her mood almost as lively and quick as when she played Bree the call-girl-in-distress in Klute in 1971, or the daughter of Hank Fonda and Kate Hepburn in 1981’s On Golden Pond.

But there’s also a new gentleness, mellowness and relaxation here in her acting and persona. It’s fun to watch her in a part like this — one in which she kids herself and lets her hair down, with a good cast (Catherine Keener, Elizabeth Olsen and others), and a good cinematograher (Andre Fleuren) and for a good director (Bruce Beresford) — even if the over-obvious, cliched script lets her (and everybody else) down. It’s the fault of the screenplay, by the way (by executive producers and first-timers Christine Mengert and John Muszynski) and not Beresford, who’s been hammered by a few critics, but who does as good a job with this material as almost anyone could have, short of writing new lines. (I agree with Pete Rainer that this material is too important to be trivial about.)

What happens? Nothing that wouldn’t occur to somebody condescending to Woodstock (and its legacy) from the vantage of another era. Peace, Love and Misunderstanding is a cross-generational family drama-with-laughs, like On Golden Pond and it doesn’t waste time harvesting the schmaltz. So to Grandma Grace’s house goes her daughter Diane (Keener, very good), who’s ignored her mother and hasn’t spoken to her for 20 years, even though Diane just lives downstate in New York City, where she’s a conservative attorney with two children, married to an uptight asshole (Kyle MacLachlan as Mark) — who‘s going to pursue his career as an asshole elsewhere and divorce Diana and leave his kids and fulfill his role of making nasty, stupid dinner party remarks about Eugene O‘Neill’s plays in some other movie. The reason for the mother-daughter break: Grace was caught dealing pot at Diana’s wedding — which makes that twenty-year embargo seem pretty drastic. (Maybe it was medicinal pot?)

Upset by the impending divorce, Diana immediately departs for Woodstock and Grandma’s, taking along the two children whom their grandmother has never seen: Committed vegan Zoe (Olsen) and geeky camcorder filmmaker and Werner Herzog enthusiast Jake (Nat Wolff). Given how uptight Diana became , the two kids seem sort of more laid-back. And they all have a lot to lay back for at Grace’s — including three perfect ready-made romances just waiting to get sprung, as well as an earth mother’s night of the crazy moon (with a welcome cameo by the still gorgeous Rosanna Arquette), cannabis galore (thanks to Grace), and even a musical festival (not as big as the other Woodtsock Peace and Love festival, but it’s heart is in the right place).

Grace was one of those people whose lives were changed by the first festival: Well along on her first pregnancy, her water broke just when Jimi Hendrix launched into The Star Spangled Banner. That’s the kind of stuff that apparently horrifies Diane, but the reunion seems amazingly trouble-free at first, given the twenty year lapse — which is only one of many plot points the script seems to over-stretch, and that the director, Beresford (of Breaker Morant and Driving Miss Daisy, and more recently, Mao’s Last Dancer), can sometimes finesse.

The romances? Diane finds a folk-rock singer named Jude (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) who’s not shy about skinny-dipping or flashing his Javier Bardem lazy smile. Committed vegan Zoe naturally falls for sexy butcher Cole (Chace Crawford). And over-inhibited Jake, who’s shy with girls even though he’s always shoving his camcorder in somebody’s face, gets a Donovan makeover from Grandma Grace, and tests his new peace and love agenda on friendly coffee-shop lass Tara (Marissa O’Donnell). All this suggests that Woodstock may be the new singles hot spot — or that Grace should take up matchmaking.

There’s one big flaw in the movie, and that’s the way it tends to ignore many of the contemporary socio-political issues you’d expect Grace and her friends to be involved with today — with G. O. P. and Tea Party Party activists hard at work trying to deregulate the markets, turn them back into a casino, establish (or re-establish) an oligarchy, and repeal most of the New Deal and Great Society, including maybe Civil Rights and the Voting Act. (There’s more poiltics than in most of today’s rom-coms, but not enough to do justice to the subject matter.) Watching Peace, Love, & Misunderstanding, you might get the impression that the only current hot button political issues were vegetarianism, decriminalizing pot and ending the war — and you might even get confused about what war they want to end. Afghanistan or Vietnam? (Some of Grace’s friends looked blitzed enough to be protesting both.)_

Ironically, Peace, Love & Misunderstanding, and Grace, turns out to be the best movie and role Fonda has had in 20 years — something that becomes less impressive when you remember that she’s only made two other movies in 20 years, and they were Monster-in-Law and Georgia Rule. Peace, Love & Misundertanding, on the other hand, seems to be a project she made out of honest feeling and real conviction — and I can appreciate that and applaud it, and hope she keeps making this kind of smaller, thoughtful film, even if I think that this time, her affection is misplaced.

Why did Fonda abandon films for most of the last two decdes? It was a mistake, I think. But then, I also think it was a mistake for Grace Kelly to give up movies to marry Prince Rainier — and Marnie alone (which she was offered by Hitchcock and wanted to do) tips the scales. Fonda was both a sometime great movie actress and a cultural-political symbol of no small signifiance — even if her stand against the Vietnam War (sometimes ill-expressed) won her a lot of abuse and even hatred.

For years the toilet bowl in the public john of the screening room where all we Chicago movie critics watched most of our movies had a Hanoi Jane Urinal Sticker — with an image of Fonda doing a workout spread below the waterline. And when I asked once that it be removed, the manager of the company next door (the one that shared the washroom with us), just smiled and didn’t answer me. Well, maybe it wasn’t his fault. Who knows who put it up there? And maybe not even all Fonda’s years as a wealthy ex-actress (Ted Turner‘s Wife), or her recent conversion to Christianity, could mollify the kind of people who would stick their hands in a toilet bowl to express their disapproval.

Never underestimate the depths of the hatreds that sometimes divide this country. Or the appeal of the peace and love slogans or pop culture hits or clichés that acted as the counter-culture antidote of the Vietnam war years. This new movie is well-directed, well-acted, well-shot, but not really well-written — which is par for the course for a lot of movies these days, even the serious ones. It diidn’t bring back the period for me, as Ang Lee’s  2009 Taking Woodstock did.

Yet I feel kindly-disposed toward it anyway, because I remember the Vietnam War years, and what they meant, and what they did, and who we were, and where, sadly, a lot of it went. And I remember Jimi Hendrix, his face rapt, his eyes closing, his fingers flying, tearing into The Star-Spangled Banner at Woodstock, though, unlike Grandma Grace, I wasn’t there.

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One Response to “Wilimington on Movies: Peace, Love, & Misunderstanding”

  1. Roy Atkinson says:

    I agree with Mike Wilmington that it is nice to have Jane Fonda back on the big screen. She did do one other recent feature film,but it was in French (“And If We All Lived Together” is the English title translation)but I’m not sure if it has ever been seen outside Europe. However IMDB lists Fonda in two new films coming in the next year or so “The Butler”and “Better Living Through Chemistry.” Now if we can only get her back with Robert Redford for one more film,even as grandparents this time.


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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
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“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon