November 23, 2014

Peace, Love and Misunderstanding: Mothers and daughters always entertain

As we enter the summer movie season — and big action films and comedies begin to fill theaters — the Reel Dad looks for a more nutritional movie choice. This week’s pick is a new film starring Jane Fonda, Peace, Love and Misunderstanding, showing in theaters and on IFC On Demand on cable.

For many baby boomers, the late 1960s remain a magical period of rock music, freedom of expression and colorful clothing. As the military struggle in Vietnam dominated the headlines, young people began to articulate issues once considered inappropriate, discovering a voice that defined a generation. No matter how we may view the period today, as a logical step in social evolution or an embarrassing moment in history, we can’t dismiss the power of its images. 

Bruce Beresford’s Peace, Love and Misunderstanding uses our memories of the period to frame a touching exploration of the complicated relationship between a mother and daughter. The mother is the free-spirited liberal who believes in the potential of every moment and the meaning of each experience. Her daughter, however, is a cautious, cynical attorney who blames her mother for many challenges she has faced in life. As this woman faces an impending divorce, she returns to her mother’s home for the first time in many years, bringing along her children for support. 

We recall struggles between mothers and daughters in such movies as Terms of Endearment and Steel Magnolias. What gives the relationship in this film such energy is the natural way Beresford lets it evolve. This director — best known for his Oscar-winning Driving Miss Daisy — refuses to reveal this mother and daughter in typical sequences. 

We don’t see the predictable scene, usually set in the kitchen, when the mother asks the daughter about her life, or the standard third-act confrontation when the daughter blames the mother for everything that has gone wrong. Beresford saves us from the obvious by carefully developing these rich characters in natural exchanges that breathe.

The performances help. Jane Fonda is as magical on screen today as when she began making movies more than 50 years ago. Time has enriched her captivating presence, richly textured voice, and startling ability to reveal the heart of a character. Casting her as the free-spirited souvenir from the 1960s is, as well, an entertaining salute to Fonda’s reputation from the period. She spontaneously plays with this image at one moment then, minutes later, reveals heartbreaking sadness over the distance that disconnects her daughter. Fonda reminds us why she is an actress made for movies. I hope she makes many more films.

As her daughter, Catherine Keener grounds the less flamboyant role in an authentic mixture of bitterness and regret. The role requires this intuitive actress to reconcile the gaps in her past with her uncertainty for the future. 

Visually, director Beresford brings a delightful style to the imagery that enhances the film’s spontaneous feel. He also creates a strong “movie within the movie” that serves the plot and enhances the narrative. Most important, he recognizes the potential that Fonda brings, giving her the moments of screen that we expect and she deserves. 

Most likely, the late 1960s were not as we remember, if we remember, but the memorable images fill a movie screen. As they illustrate this relationship between a mother and daughter, our memories of that time enhance the lessons these characters teach today.

Film Nutritional Value

Peace, Love and Misunderstanding

* Content: High. The dynamics between the generations, and the emotions they ultimately articulate, helps us learn why family can be such a rewarding challenge.

* Entertainment: High. Any chance to see the great Jane Fonda on screen is worth the price of admission. She reminds us what a commanding actress she can be 

* Message: Medium. While the film returns us to the spirit of an earlier time, it helps us see how memories can interfere with relationships.

* Relevance: High. The opportunity to explore how mothers and daughters learn, protect, ignore and support is welcome in any family.

* Opportunity for Dialogue: High. You and your older children will enjoy talking about the images of the late 1960s and the family dynamics they can influence.

(Peace, Love and Misunderstanding is rated R for drug content and some sexual references. The film runs 96 minutes.)

4 Popcorn Buckets