In theory, the idea of Jane Fonda, Catherine Keener and Elizabeth Olsen playing three generations of women in the same family should be delightful, or at least well-acted.
In reality, veteran director Bruce Beresford's dramedy "Peace, Love & Misunderstanding" squanders the abilities of these usually fearless, formidable actresses with material that's entirely predictable and a high sap factor that belongs in a made-for-cable production. Before we arrive at such mawkishness, though, we must slog through some seriously sitcommy humor: generational clashes, fish-out-of-water antics and tired hippie-culture cliches.
Fonda brings her typically radiant screen presence to what probably looked like a wild, fun role: She plays Grace, a free-spirited grandma living in a rambling Woodstock, N.Y., farmhouse where she grows her own pot and gets frisky with the neighbors. Her daughter, Diane (Keener), an uptight Manhattan lawyer, naturally is the polar opposite. Somewhere in the middle in terms of temperament and interests is Diane's college-student daughter, Zoe (Olsen), an ultra-opinionated vegan.
When Diane's husband (a barely-there Kyle MacLachlan) abruptly announces he's divorcing her at the film's start, she packs up Zoe and her teenage son, Jake (Nat Wolff), for a road trip upstate to visit granny, from whom she's been estranged for the past 20 years. Hijinks, highly convenient love interests and heavy symbolism await them there. Jake, an aspiring documentarian, captures it all on his video camera whether his subjects want him to or not — so you know that at some point, we'll all have to watch the final edited product and relive everything we just saw.
Grace lets the chickens run wild in her kitchen (but doesn't give them names because she believes animals don't really belong to people), stages war protests in the downtown square every Saturday, holds drunken drum circles by the full moon with her fellow sister-goddesses and begins sentences with phrases like: "When I met the Dalai Lama ...." She is, in short, a type. And there's very little that even an actress of Fonda's piercing depth can do with such a shallow characterization. (The first-time script comes from Christina Mengert and Joseph Muszynski.)
Eventually, Diane learns to let her hair down — it goes from stick-straight to messy and wavy, a cheap and easy shorthand — with the help of the town's hunky musician/carpenter, Jude (Jeffrey Dean Morgan). What he sees in her is baffling — she's judgmental and morose, he likes to burst into "The Weight" by The Band out of nowhere — but the script calls for her to loosen up and fall in love, so there you have it.
Meanwhile, Zoe is initially resistant to the intelligence and charm of the hot local butcher (Chace Crawford). But eventually she, too, must succumb. Plus, he looks like Chace Crawford, so what more do you need? Even nerdy Jake gets to enjoy an awkward fling of his own with a local girl.
For a movie that's supposed to be about complicated issues of family and identity, it's all very neat and tidy. And we haven't even gotten to the cringe-inducing moment when Diane literally unties a balloon from a sandbag to represent her willingness to let go.
"Peace, Love & Misunderstanding," an IFC Films release, is rated R for drug content and some sexual references. Running time: 96 minutes. Grade: C-