God knows this isnt the first indie film to fall prey to contrivances, inept predictability and forced quirkiness. But whats so perplexing is that Peace, now on DVD and Blu-ray after a small theatrical run, is made by such talented people.
Its director is the usually dependable Bruce Beresford, whose credits range from Breaker Morant to Driving Miss Daisy. But neither he nor a cast that includes Jane Fonda, Catherine Keener and Elizabeth Olsen can atone for the movies surfeit of eye-rolling dopiness.
The opening minutes are a warning of whats to come. With all the grace of a pothead rifling through a fridge, the picture introduces us to Diane (Keener, Trust), an uptight, emotionally pinched Manhattan attorney whose husband (Kyle MacLachlan, TVs Desperate Housewives) tells her shortly before their dinner party that he wants a divorce.
The scene, although brief, is so awkwardly staged and emotionally stagnant, it almost seems like a put-on. But it is the catalyst for Diane to load up her college-age kids, headstrong vegan Zoe (Olsen, Martha Marcy May Marlene) and wannabe filmmaker Jake (Nat Wolff, TVs The Naked Brothers Band), in the car and head to upstate New York to visit the mother she hasnt seen in 20 years.
Make that the earth mother she hasnt seen in 20 years. Her mom, an artist named Grace (Fonda), is a one-time flower child with an affinity for pot, promiscuity and Saturday-afternoon protests. Zoe and Jake are charmed by their groovy granny and her recollections of seeing the Dead play Woodstock.
But Diane, who resents growing up in a house full of wild parties, is less amused; You barrel through peoples lives and you let everybody else pick up the pieces! Diane fumes.
Fear not, peace-and-love fans. Theres not much appetite for dredging up hostilities when Graces hometown is humming with good vibes. Zoe meets a hunky butcher (Chace Crawford, What to Expect When Youre Expecting) with the progressive soul of Dennis Kucinich, while Jake finds himself smitten with a perky coffeehouse worker (newcomer Marissa ODonnell). Not even Diane can resist an easygoing musician (Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Watchmen) who charms the irritable woman right out of her armor.
Peace offers only a pretense of familial conflict, since Beresford is as enamored with Grace as Grace is. Brimming with life-affirming mojo and more platitudes than a Hallmark store, she is just what this psychologically wounded family needs. A bit more ambivalence would have been welcome.
Who could possibly breathe life into this? The gifted Keener tries valiantly, but her character is too one-note for much exploration. And Fonda, a well-preserved 74 and still a compelling screen presence, definitely deserves better. Phil Bacharach