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Friday, September 19, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 73.0° F  Mostly Cloudy and Breezy
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Peace, Love, & Misunderstanding closes the generation gap
Jane Fonda, hippie grandma
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There's a disappointing slightness.
There's a disappointing slightness.

In Peace, Love, & Misunderstanding, Jane Fonda isn't seen sitting on a North Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun. But her performance as a war-protesting hippie still might give hives to Silent Majority types with long memories.

Politics isn't really the Fonda character's main focus, though. Primarily she's a friendly, pot-smoking (and -growing) grandmother who drives a VW Bug, chants at the moon, keeps chickens inside her upstate New York farmhouse and reminisces about Woodstock. I like this lively work by Fonda, who is beautiful and fascinating at 74. Her performance is what I admire most about this slack dramedy.

Fonda's character, Grace, is the mother of Diane (Catherine Keener), an attorney who in the opening scenes is divorced by her husband (Kyle MacLachlan). In the wake of the split, Grace trundles her teenage kids Zoe and Jake up to Grandma's for a summer getaway. Zoe, who humorlessly touts veganism, is played by that other Olsen sister, Elizabeth, of Martha Marcy May Marlene fame. Insecure Jake (Nat Wolff) is an aspiring filmmaker who looks at everything through a camera lens.

Peace, Love, & Misunderstanding follows these characters as they pursue various small-town romantic entanglements. Almost secondarily, we watch the struggle between Grace and Diane, who are estranged.

Unlike her hippie mom, Diane is a Reagan-touting conservative. That's a cliché going back at least as far as Michael J. Fox's character on Family Ties, and director Bruce Beresford (Driving Miss Daisy, Tender Mercies) doesn't handle the conflict memorably. Diane's politics are only gestured at, and the stakes don't seem very high. She's at odds with both her mother and her daughter, but all the characters are basically smiley and benign, and the storytelling is episodic and limp.

This material could have made for a bracing film, but there's a disappointing slightness. Beresford brought a similar slightness to his last film, 2009's Mao's Last Dancer. That was about China's Cultural Revolution, and you'd think it would be hard to make a bland movie about the Cultural Revolution. But Beresford found a way.

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