Peace, Love & Misunderstanding aspires to be an indie darling, a movie that is seen by few, but is recognized by critics and indie film fans alike as something special. It will most likely get the first half of the equation right, but I’d be shocked if it got the second. Peace, Love & Misunderstanding is so outrageously bad that even the impressive and talented cast couldn’t pull it anywhere near the point of mediocrity, much less quality. This is one to avoid at all costs.
The plot involves Diane (Catherine Keener), a conservative lawyer who has just been asked for a divorce by her husband. Upon hearing the news, she grabs her two kids, Zoe (Elizabeth Olsen) and Jake (Nat Wolff) and sets off on a trip to visit her hippie, left wing nut job of a mother, Grace (Jane Fonda), who she hasn’t seen in 20 years. There she meets the hunky Jude (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), who looks like he may help her begin her healing process, while her kids find their own romantic interests in Tara (Marissa O’Donnell) and the town butcher, Cole (Chace Crawford).
Peace, Love & Understanding tries to do many things and it fails at all of them. At its core, it’s a movie about the crumbling of a dysfunctional family and the effect that dysfunction has on the growing minds of the kids. It’s like The Squid and the Whale, only without the profundity, subtext or three dimensional characters. It attempts to make statements on a number of things, including war, love, sensationalist infotainment as “news” and the idea of peace being an antithesis to freedom, but these things are said in passing and featured in so few scenes as to have no impact. The one thing it explores in depth is the idea of forgiveness and loving those who love you, different though they may be, but the contrived set-up that throws characters with differing viewpoints into each other is uninteresting and a perfect example of shallow screenwriting. Diane’s conservative attitude is constantly at odds with Grace’s liberal sensibilities, for instance, while Zoe’s love for all life clashes with Cole’s job of cutting up animals for sale. When Grace drags Zoe and Jake to an anti-war protest (which she does every Thursday if for no other reason than because she thinks the government is waiting for her to tire out), Diane freaks and pulls them away, not wanting the hippie mindset to take control of her kids, which is understandable given how bizarrely they act. I would say jokingly that hippies were more realistically represented in this year’s Paul Rodd comedy Wanderlust if my friend and critic Nell Minow hadn’t already said so seriously.
Peace, Love & Misunderstanding wants so badly to be interesting. It tries to be profound, but its observations are trite. It tries to be dramatic, but it’s too cheesy to be so. It thinks it’s a deep study on human emotions, motivations and reason, but it’s really no more than another silly romantic comedy. It has a few good messages, like the idea that our deficiencies are really just a state of mind and all we need to succeed in both life and love is a little courage, but it’s portrayed in such an obvious and heavy handed way that its effect is rendered moot. The film’s problem isn’t so much that it lacks substance—even thematically simple movies can be good—but that it tries so hard to be deep yet reaches the cinematic equivalent of a kiddie pool.
From a technical perspective, the film is a mess as well, complete with occasional awkward framing and editing (the movie has such a poor flow that even the filler shots fail to make a convincing transition between moments), but the majority of its deficiencies continually stem from a group of characters that are impossible to root for or care about. Grace, in particular, is beyond annoying and speaks in more prophetic phrases than Robert Duvall in Seven Days in Utopia and their manufactured problems are all resolved so quickly, it’s like they never happened at all.
Peace, Love & Misunderstanding has an arrogance about it, as if it’s as thoughtful a movie that has ever come out, but its ignorance knows no bounds. If “thoughtful” is on one end of the spectrum, Peace, Love & Misunderstanding is on the other.
Peace, Love & Misunderstanding receives 0.5/5