Diane (Catherine Keener) has two kids, one in college and one soon to be there as well, a successful law practice and a husband. As she is preparing for a dinner party, her husband (Kyle MacLachlan) informs her that he wants a divorce, now that the kids are older. He is packing to depart after the dinner is over when she informs him that she’s taking their kids up to her mother’s house and he informs her that they will be doing what he wants when she returns.
Mother’s house is an old place near that famous town of Woodstock, where Grace (Jane Fonda) lives and has done so without contact from Diane for 20 years. Chickens wander in and out of the house, and according to Zoe (Elizabeth Olsen), the older of the two kids, the place “reeks of pot”. Turns out that Grace sold pot and that was one way she made ends meet, but hopefully she isn’t doing that now.
Grace is clearly still living in the 60s in mindset, if not actuality. She organizes and takes part in protests against the war. Yes, she smokes pot. She is involved with local music festivals. She holds ceremonies to honor the Goddess that are for women only when the moon is full. Her life is as wild as her untamed locks and she loves it that way. To her, it’s impossible to believe that she raised such an “uptight” daughter and she pokes and prods Diane to loosen up a bit. She had a dream telling her that Diane was coming and why, and she seems unsurprised when informed of the impending divorce.
Zoe is smart, well-read, and looking for a love that is essentially her twin, but in the body of a man. She finds some of what she wants in the local butcher, Cole (Chace Crawford), but considering she’s a vegetarian, she’s going to have to look past the nature and cruelty of his chosen profession to see just how much of herself she may find within him.
Her brother Jake (Nat Wolff) sees life through the lens of the video camera that seems surgically attached to his hand, and in the form of the film he is always making, although no one has ever seen one of his films (that will change). He too is going to encounter romance in Woodstock.
So will Diane, in the form of Jude (Jeffrey Dean Morgan), a local carpenter who is also a musician and who has a special relationship with Grace. A relationship that will become the root of a problem later on.
If it all sounds so contrived, that’s because it is. In reality, Peace, Love and Misunderstanding features a family from the city going to have all three of its members finding romance literally within a few dozen hours of fleeing their urban homes? The answer is an obvious no, but here in this universe, where Grace bonded with Bob Dylan across the stage at Woodstock, and where she can remember the order of songs the Grateful Dead played (not a tough trick, since she names only three of the five numbers in their set that was shortened by equipment problems) at Woodstock.
We ultimately discover what went on between Jude and Grace, Cole discovers how Zoe felt about a butcher at first glance, and we learn the deep, dark secret that kept mother and daughter apart for 20 years, and it still felt a bit contrived.
Peace, Love and Misunderstanding is a film that had a lot of potential, and a story that could have gone wonderful places, but instead doesn’t deliver on its promise. It’s still a good effort, and features particuarly strong performances from Fonda, Olsen and Keener. It delivers laughs, but some of them may not have been intentional or sought in the place where they came.