To mark the 40th anniversary of Woodstock, Academy Award-winning director Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain) tells the story of the man who provided the upstate New York location for the generation-defining concert in the summer of 1969.
The new comedy Taking Woodstock is inspired by the true story of Elliot Tiber (Demetri Martin, Important Things with Demetri Martin) and his family, who inadvertently played a pivotal role in making the famed Woodstock Music and Arts Festival into the happening that it was.
Tiber, who used all his earnings to help his parents keep their dilapidated motel out of foreclosure, hears that a neighboring town has pulled the permit on a hippie music festival. Thinking he could drum up some much-needed business for the motel, Tiber makes some calls and inadvertently becomes a part of history.
Three weeks later, half a million people are on their way to his neighbor’s farm in White Lake, N.Y., and Tiber finds himself swept up in a generation-defining experience that would change his life, and American culture, forever.
Things we liked about the movie:
1. It follows that a movie about Woodstock would have great music, and this soundtrack would definitely be one worth owning. Lee doesn’t even attempt to go near the stage, but tracks from Janis Joplin, The Doors, Crosby, Stills & Nash and Arlo Guthrie are still featured prominently in the film.
2. The movie looked like it was filmed in 1969, from the authentic cars and clothes to the Super 8 “footage” that you would swear was the real thing until Martin walks through the shot. Even the popular muddy hillside was right on target and the audience leaves the theater very aware of why festival organizers constructed a “Trip Tent.”
3. Performances by the supporting characters were solid and lovable. Elliot’s parents, played by Imelda Staunton and Henry Goodman, surprised everyone with their ability to manage the over-capacity hotel by themselves, and the cross-dresser on security detail, Vilma (Liev Schreiber, Wolverine), added a surprising amount of comfort to the chaos. Other great performances came from Emile Hirsch (Milk) as a young Vietnam veteran suffering from flashbacks and Eugene Levy (American Pie), who departs from his typical character to play the real-life Max Yasgur, who provides his 600-acre farm land to host the iconic festival.
Things we disliked about the movie:
1. Martin is a master of dry, ironic stand-up comedy, but his acting skills can use some polishing up. Much of his dialogue felt recited and amateurish.
2. Although it was a given that the audience would be exposed to the feeling of an acid trip during a comedy about Woodstock, we felt some parts were overdone.
3. This reviewing duo would have liked to have seen more elaboration on the character of Michael Lang (magnificently played by Jonathan Groff), co-creator of Woodstock, since he was a key personality to this celebration of the ‘60s social movement. Then again, maybe that should be a movie in itself.
All in all, Taking Woodstock is an uplifting and optimistic look at the people behind the curtain of the famed music and arts festival, rather than focusing on the festival itself.