Over 30 years ago Jane Fonda starred in Sydney Pollack’s The Electric Horseman as an uptight city woman who finds love and liberation up in the Rocky Mountains. That’s pretty much the same storyline in Bruce Beresford’s Peace, Love, and Misunderstanding, but now it’s her uptight city daughter who she leads to love and liberation in the Catskills Mountains.
Like another period classic, Paul Mazursky’s An Unmarried Woman (1978), this movie opens as Manhattan lawyer Diane (Catherine Keener) gets the divorce pronouncement from her husband (Kyle MacLachlan). She starts her road trip right away, packing up her teenage daughter, Zoe (Elizabeth Olsen), and son Jake (Nat Wolff), and heading over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house that they have never visited together before.
After the famous 1969 festival, Grace (Fonda) stayed in Woodstock, where Diane was born and raised. Grace hasn’t changed her long curly locks, politics, LPs, lakeside art studio, and flowing robes since, and she’s full of old anecdotes about the likes of Jimi and Jerry. (My cousin in Woodstock reports the locals were gawking at Fonda’s outfits during the filming.) With Diane trying to set boundaries on her mother—no dealing marijuana and no naked amorous adventures while her kids are there—the setup is like the 1980’s sitcom Family Ties of liberal baby-boomer parents and conservative offspring.
In this Brigadoon-like, frozen-in-time Woodstock, Grace quickly recruits her grandchildren into her hippie lifestyle, starting with her weekly anti-war protest group that conveniently includes a few attractive younger folks. Jake’s attachment to a video camera immediately attracts the enthusiastic attention of teen movie fan Tara (Marissa O’Donnell), who seems to be the only one in the film updated enough to text and be online. The romantic, poetic writing on the wall becomes way too obvious, with some bits of conflict cooked up before and after the moonlight and the marijuana take hold. Vegan Zoe follows up one handsome protestor with a visit to the politically correct butcher shop of Cole (Chace Crawford), and Grace hosts a party that showcases her friend Jude (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) on guitar serenading her prodigal daughter. She named her Diana for the goddess, her mother explains at a full moon feminist gathering that includes Rosanna Arquette and Joyce Van Patten.
Besides the blatant chick flick romantic appeal, the mothers/daughters relationships hold a modicum of interest in Christina Mengert and Joseph Muszynski’s debut screenplay. Each has valid gripes and grudges about neglect, and everyone tearfully reconciles around a viewing of Jake’s resulting montage of “Love in Woodstock.” For Fonda, this role is at least a better welcome return to film than her recent broad Hollywood comedies, but it’s disappointing that future-star-to-watch Olsen, so good in Martha Marcy May Marlene, is relegated to a typical teenager.
While there’s a brief contemporary touch in a musical performance by Smash’s Katharine McPhee, at least the nostalgia of Jude and Diane dueting on the Band’s “The Weight” incidentally serves as a memorial tribute to the late Levon Helm, whose Midnight Ramble showcases revived musical attention on Woodstock. But if you want to wallow in the town’s glory days, better evocations are Tony Goldwyn’s A Walk on the Moon (1999) or even Ang Lee’s Taking Woodstock.