YES for peace. YES for music inspiring change. YES for the days when you didn’t have to obtain your medicinal license to get stoned in the streets. YES for Taking Woodstock. Based on the memoirs of Elliot Tiber, Academy Award-winning director Ang Lee captures the essence of hippie 1960′s America without a blemish.
Check out the plot, the good and the bad below…
When Elliot (Demetri Martin) leaves his job in Greenwich Village and moves back upstate to help his family restore the El Monaco, a glowing dump of a motel – all signs are pointing to a dismal summer. After hearing that a planned music and arts festival lost it’s permit from a neighboring town, Elliot offers his family’s motel to the promoters, hoping to generate business, cut the parental chord, and move back to the city. After suggesting a nearby 600 acre dairy farm to the festival staff, Elliot finds himself in the middle of a generation-defining experience that would not only inspire his own liberation, but pop-culture as we know it.
- Theme: Everything this festival represented – hope, change, peace – evokes social parallels to current American, pro-Obama, society. Taking Woodstock presents the opportunity to both acknowledge and honor those similarities – the story is strikingly relevant. This demonstration of unity under the harshest of circumstances can elicit the same type of hope in a film-audience today as it did in Woodstock’s audience in the 1960’s. “We were in the middle of a war, but we felt that if we got together we could do anything” – Celia Costas, producer
- Ensemble: The casting was impeccable. The performances were flawless. Demetri Martin absolutely carries this motion picture. His endearing and honest portrayal of Elliot is spiked with subtle humor and intrinsic innocence – he’s almost TOO likable. And then you’ve got Paul Dano, Liev Schreiber, and Emile Hirsch whose characters represent the varying dimensions of 1960’s society: the flower child, the cross dresser, and the Vietnam vet. Their screen time is minimal, which is surprising for such established actors, but their supporting performances are huge contributions to the overall impact of this stellar ensemble.
- Misconceptions: This is more of what I anticipate as a collective misconception then a “bad” attribute of the film. Be forewarned: This movie is NOT about the 3-day music festival itself. In fact, there isn’t a minute of tape featuring a single performance, (An acid trip in a VW outside the venue is the closest we get to Hendrix). Taking Woodstock features the nuts and bolts of the festival process – which is interesting, to a degree. But watching people make phone calls and caravan across the United States can only be so engaging. There was no peak to the story, so despite the gut-wrenchingly hilarious dialogue and committed portrayal of the 1960’s ambiance – Lee lost the audience about halfway through the film.
- No Pay Off: While Elliot’s journey is almost a microcosm of everything the festival represents, (presenting a potentially SWEET sub-plot line), his “coming of age” is relatively faint, and only arrives within the final minutes of the film. Sigh.
Yes, the movie, at times, seems long. Yes, the movie is mildly anti-climactic. BUT any fan of the 1960′s WILL appreciate this movie. The characters, the soundtrack, the message, and the entire vibe of the film does the decade justice. No doubt. But perhaps the central importance of this film lies in it’s relevance. This film will evoke optimism. This film will promote unity. This film will encourage a present day America to find hope in amidst a war, a financial crisis, and a wave of social change.
Check out Taking Woodstock in select theaters starting August 28th!