to zap them
to levitate them
to open them
with love vessels
to clothe the wretched
with linen and light
to put music and truth
in our underwear
to make the land and its cities glow
— Julian Beck of
The Living Theatre
Welcome to Woodstock, New York, site of the greatest countercultural event of all time. Although many have forgotten or purposely banished from their minds the radical transformations that took place in America during the tumultuous and free-spirited times of the late 1960s, some carefree alumni of the Flower Power Movement are still keeping the faith and thriving in their new role as elders.
Meet Grace (Jane Fonda), the enthusiastic and vibrant earth-mother of a band of ex-hippies and younger fellow-travelers in 2012 Woodstock. She is a sculptor and a painter who loves the natural world and animals — chickens are allowed to roam freely in her house and peacocks wander through her yard. Grace dispenses spiritual wisdom and secretly grows marijuana in her basement. She has had sex with many men in the community and is an advocate of love and peace as the two forces that can heal the war-twisted world.
One of the few things that grieves and troubles this life-affirming woman is her 20-year estrangement from her daughter Diane (Catherine Keener), a straight-arrow, critical, and politically conservative New York City lawyer. She has never forgiven her mother for selling marijuana at her wedding. Her two almost grown children, Zoe (Elizabeth Olsen), an aspiring poet, and Jake (Nat Wolff), a budding filmmaker, have never met Grace.
When Diane's husband (Kyle Maclachlan) announces that he wants a divorce, she decides on the spur of the moment to take a break and try to sort things out at her mother's place. Grace is thrilled to see her daughter and shares a vivid dream she had the night before. She is convinced that Diane's Spirit Guide brought her to Woodstock. Diane finds it hard to listen to her mother's spiritual bromides and characterizes Grace's reading of her as "a tight-assed lawyer who needs a soul transplant." Her anger comes to the fore when her mother takes Zoe and Jake to the community's weekly antiwar/peace demonstration.
Grace takes every opportunity she can to offer advice to her grandchildren. She counsels Zoe to get a muse for her poetry and to dig deeper in her blossoming relationship with Cole (Chace Crawford), a handsome butcher who is smitten with her. Grace tries to boost Jake's spirits when he wants to romance Tara (Marissa O'Donnell), a pretty waitress. He sees himself as a nerd when it comes to girls so his grandmother gives him sexual advice.
The veteran Australian director Bruce Beresford makes the most out of the spunky screenplay by Christina Mengert and Joseph Muszynski. He has perfectly cast the five lead characters. Throughout their reunion they remain touchingly human as they struggle with the changes afoot in their lives. Diane is a repressed woman who is very rigid in her behavior and in her beliefs. Although her mother tries to loosen her up, this challenge is more successfully taken on by Jude (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), a carpenter with a love of folk and rock music.
Peace, Love, and Misunderstanding is a light-hearted ode to the continuing impact of the 1960s on our times. It is a very touching depiction of a mother-daughter reunion and its transformative impact on both women.
"I'd rather learn from one bird how to sing
than teach ten thousand stars how not to dance."
— e e cummings