‘Peace, Love & Misunderstanding’ with Norman Mailer

Guest Blog: The filmmakers behind "Peace, Love and Misunderstanding" missed a chance with their take on a mother and daughter healing a relationship

I wanted to see this film because my mother had never wanted me to have an affair with Norman Mailer.

 “What do you see in that old geezer?” my mother would say as she rolled her eyes. One day she gave Norman an apple as a gesture of friendship, but she tolerated my headstrong choice to have an eight-year love affair with a married man.

In 1991, when Norman wanted to control my interview with Gore Vidal for Esquire, I said, “No.”  Months later he abruptly ended our relationship claiming his sixth wife had found out about us (though she had known all along), and I reached out to mother to help me heal my pain. At the age of 91, she moved from Valley Forge, Pa., to my apartment in New York, which I had shared with Norman.  I cared for her until her death at age 100. These became the most precious moments of my life.

A former Pennsylvania Dutch farmer, my mother Laura Lulu Lengel Wagner was a "real trouper," one of her favorite sayings. In 1995, after suffering a stroke, she became wheelchair-bound and blind in one eye. Still her love of life allowed me, with the help of an aide, to wheel her to Central Park for picnics, to Broadway to the theater, to Tavern on the Green, to McDonald’s, to doctors, to see the fireworks on the Fourth of July, to my gym where she would wave at me when I swam. 

I was eager to see "Peace, Love and Misunderstanding" to see a film about a mother and daughter healing a relationship.

Much as I was rooting for this film, it did not do the trick. Oh, Jane Fonda’s acting is up to snuff, though at times a bit broad, but this is director Bruce Beresford’s fault.  It is her charm and sense of humor about herself that is her saving grace.  She plays a hippie grandmother, an Auntie Mame type who is still living in Woodstock as though it were the '80s.  She grows pot, sells pot and smokes pot.  This, in itself, could have been a good film if developed, but the screenwriters Joseph Muszinsky and Christina Mengert got moralistic and had the need to create a story around a family torn apart by Fonda’s hippie, liberal ways.

As Fonda’s estranged daughter, Catherine Keener cannot utter a false note. With her raw sincerity, she walks away with this film.

After being estranged from her mother for 20 years, Diane is going through a divorce from Mark (Kyle McLaughlin) and wants to visit her mother in upstate New York. Years ago, at Diane and Mark's wedding, Grace sold marijuana to their guests whom she also turned on. Alas, Diane had her own mother arrested.

Cut to today as Diane walks into Grace's charming, but outdated, hippy pad and says, "Mom it reeks of pot in here." She scans the book shelf and sees a copy of "Marijuana Growers Handbook" and photos of a gorgeous young Diane (Fonda). Diane has brought her two teenagers, Zoe (Elizabeth Olsen and Jake (Nat Wolff).

In no time Grace is turning Zoe and Cole on and realizes that telling them stories of her old sexploits brings yawns to her living room, so she offers to show them her "grow room" which enchants them. "Stay away from the brown stuff or anything with needles. That's what took down Janis and Jimmy."

Zoe is an aspiring writer suffering from writer's block. As she passes a bong, Grace says, "This stuff loosens you up from halted tongue." Here the screenwriters force their attempt to be cute on the viewer.

"Every writer knows you write from your spirit. You need a muse." Grace says implying Zoe should make grass her muse.

Soon Diane spots a drop-dead gorgeous Jude (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and a romance flourishes, but almost dies when Diane discovers Grace had had an affair years ago with Jude. Simultaneously Diane's daughter, Zoe becomes enamored with the town butcher Cole, also drop-dead gorgeous, played by Chace Crawford.

Grace lectures a prudish Diane, "Don't be a cock blocker" which is supposed to breathe life into this dying script.

"Why does the past mean so much to you?" Grace asks at one point.

"This from a woman still living in 1969?" Diane says, and once the anger and the truth are revealed between mother and daughter, the healing begins with a gong.

The premise of the movie had made me want to see it — the coming together of a dysfunctional family– despite the fact that Grace in no way reminded me of my mother.  But the predictable nature of the script just put me to sleep and it could you as well. If you have insomnia see "Peace, Love & Misunderstanding." But if you are of sound mind and sleep, skip it and savor your memories.

Continue Reading 0