September 16, 2011

THE BIJOU @ TIFF: “Peace, Love & Misunderstanding”

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Written by: Mitch Salem
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I wasn’t aware that the Toronto Film Festival showed TV pilots until I caught a screening of PEACE, LOVE & MISUNDERSTANDING.  As a pilot, Peace certainly has its appeal, with a strong cast that includes Jane Fonda, Catherine Keener, Jeffrey Dean Morgan and rising star Elizabeth Olsen (Martha Marcy May Marlene), and a reliable premise that can furnish reliably heartwarming laughs for seasons to come…

Sorry, this just in–apparently Peace, Love & Misunderstanding isn’t a pilot at all?  It’s a full-fledged feature film?  Directed by Bruce Beresford, whose films include Tender Mercies and Driving Miss Daisy?  Oh.  Well, never mind.
As someone who’s sat in a few TV development meetings, I can say the mistake would have been an honest one:  Peace is as contrived and predictable as any series you’ve tried to watch because of the cast and then abandoned.  The set-up alone is cringe-inducing:  when her marriage breaks up, tense, hard-driving and politically-conservative lawyer Diane (Keener) packs her teen children Zoe and Jake (Olsen and Nat Wolff) into the car and goes with them to upstate New York, where her hippy-dippy, pot-smoking, anti-war, moon-worshipping, free-love mom Grace (Jane Fonda) lives.  Wait, did I say “upstate New York”?  Surely it’s possible to make the location more of a contrivance in and of itself–that’s right, she lives in Woodstock!
Once there, the script by Joseph Muszyski and Christina Mengert makes sure that everything you would expect to happen does.  (Spoiler Alert, I guess.)  Diane loosens up and finds love with sensitive carpenter/songwriter Jude (Jeffrey Dean Morgan); vegetarian Zoe finds love with butcher Cole (Chace Crawford); budding filmmaker Jake not only finds love with cute coffee-shop girl Tara (Marissa O’Donnell), but makes an acclaimed, loving film about his crazy family.  And of course Diane and Grace, who have been estranged for years, soften to one another.  To set up the series, by the end of the pilot–sorry, I keep making that mistake–Diane has moved in with Jude, so now she lives in the same small town as her mom.
This would all be unspeakable if the cast weren’t so skilled; as it is, the picture is amiably bland.  It might have been more fun if Fonda had winked at the fact that her character is a bizarro version of her own 60s persona, but she stays professionally in character, while Keener can play these frosty types in her sleep.  (The sad part is watching Olsen, brilliant in Martha Marcy May, reduced to pouting because her cute boyfriend doesn’t understand her.)  The movie delivers a few laughs–it played well with the Toronto audience–and it’s friendly enough; Beresford can’t possibly save the material, but he’s been doing this for a long time, and the picture flows from A to B to C and so on through the entire alphabet.
As a film festival presentation, Peace, Love & Misunderstanding is fairly embarrassing, aside from the cast; the good news is that I understand ABC Family is always looking for new projects.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."