In the film "Peace, Love & Misunderstanding," Jane Fonda plays Grace, a pot-growing, free-loving, war-protesting hippie mom to Catherine Keener's Diane, an uptight New York City lawyer who has been estranged from her mother for two decades. When Diane's marriage fails, she shows up on Grace's doorstep in Woodstock with her two teens in tow, played by Elizabeth Olsen (younger sister of the famous twins) and Nat Wolff.
Directed by Bruce Beresford, "PLM" explores mother-daughter relationships, coming to terms with the past and the complexities of love and forgiveness. Fonda and Keener met with a small group of women reporters in New York Monday to talk about their experience.
I asked Fonda, 74, how the film fit into her "third act" -- the name she gave to the stage of life after 60 in her recent book Prime Time. "It fits well in the sense that I'm a grandmother and had daughter issues that are resolved," said Fonda. "The reason I wanted to do the movie -- besides working with Bruce Beresford and Catherine Keener -- was I wanted to make a movie about love and forgiveness.
"One of the reasons I liked Grace so much was from the moment [they arrive on her] doorstep, she knows right away there's no love here - and there has to be love here or there won't be any forgiveness," Fonda said.
Keener, 53, is lovely as the wounded Diane, adding another rich role to the eclectic characters she has played in quirky indies like "Walking and Talking" and blockbusters including "The 40 Year Old Virgin." Keener received Academy Award nominations for best supporting actress for "Being John Malkovich" and "Capote."
Keener called the film's mother-daughter relationship "a realistic dynamic. Jane is irresistible. I think that people's spirits always infuse their roles and their acting, and ... I couldn't turn away from her eventually. Mothers and daughters... I hate to generalize, but it's something that flips like that -- you always want to be close."
I asked Keener if she thought mother-daughter reconciliations were more likely to happen as daughters age. "I think you act on it more [in midlife] -- in my 20s and 30s I can distance myself," she said. The shock of motherhood can also inspire more empathy and unsettle old habits, Keener added. "I was someone who never left my house; having a kid forces you to be a more public person." (She has a 12-year-old son.)
Ironically, Fonda produced and starred in the 1981 film "On Golden Pond" as the 40-something daughter estranged from her cantankerous father -- played by her dad, Henry Fonda. Their difficult relationship on screen mirrored a real-life struggle to connect. Katharine Hepburn played Jane's mother.
"I am the age Katharine Hepburn was when she was in 'On Golden Pond,'" Fonda said. "I didn't think about it - I just assumed the role of the elder. I'm much wiser [in this film] than my father was in that movie. He didn't pass too much down; I had to pull it out of him - in the movie and in life."
And despite Fonda's activism during the Vietnam War, "I was never a hippie," she said. "Catherine told me what music to listen to...she brought me a documentary that made me totally understand Woodstock, we watched 'The Last Waltz'..."
"...I told her what I've heard about smoking pot," Keener interjected with a laugh.
..."I never wore tie-die," Fonda continued, "and my anti-war work was less carrying placards and more about organizing." (Fonda has apologized to veterans for her infamous photo on a Vietnamese anti-aircraft gun.)
In "PLM," Fonda sports a flowing gray wig and tight jeans, looking every bit as buff as she did in her iconic exercise videos of the 1980s. She exudes a sexuality rarely depicted in older women on the big screen. (The press recently went gaga over Fonda in a bronze mesh Atelier Versace gown at the Cannes Film Festival.) "At this odd old age I'm becoming more glamorous than I ever was when I was meant to be," she laughed. "I want to go against type and give hope.
"One of things I found out is that over 50, it's not that people get happier but they [get] more comfortable in their skin," she added. "They've survived, been through heartbreak and gotten through it. There's something liberating about it."
Fonda is clearly enjoying herself on screen and in life -- something she credits in part to her decade of marriage to Ted Turner. "I come from long line of depressed people but Ted is a rambunctious, over-the-top, funny person who can be very outrageous," she said. "I learned how to laugh with him and that it's OK to be out there. So you fall flat on your face -- you get up. ...Years ago I didn't imagine I'd be alive at 74, much less starring in a movie. I'm happier than I've ever been -- and it's certainly not what I ever expected."
Is "PLM" an indication that roles are growing for women of a certain age in Hollywood?
"It's just beginning to get better," said Fonda. "It's a business, a market -- and marketeers know that older women are the fastest-growing demographic. The fact that 'Best Exotic Marigold Hotel' has done hugely well, Meryl Streep movies do hugely well financially and the fact that more and more television shows are making it possible for older women to be full, multi-dimensional people ... I'm always optimistic."
"Jane's optimism makes me believe that it's true," Keener added. "But my initial reaction to that question was, yes, I think there are slim pickings. But at this point we're not going to take it anymore. No one is going to decide it's over for me -- we'll start doing our own stuff or make some noise about it."
Check out the slideshow below for a trailer of "Peace, Love & Misunderstanding" and images of Fonda and Keener.
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