Taking Woodstock is a movie by Ang Lee that opened this weekend. Based on a true story, it features one Elliot Tiber (played by The Daily Show’s Demetri Martin), a repressed young man who has returned to his small home town to try and help his parent’s save their rundown motel. When he hears that another nearby town has banned a planned major music festival, he seizes on the opportunity to convince promoters to hold it in White Lake instead. Despite some bumps on the way, a deal is struck to hold the proceedings on a neighbour’s farm. Soon Elliot, his parents, and indeed the whole town are caught up in a tidal wave of history, as Woodstock brings thousands of young hippies to town.
I’d read about this movie a couple months ago, in the Princess guide, and always planned to go, just because it sounded like something I would like. And that Jean might even enjoy. But then the day it opened, the critics starting commenting. The movie doesn’t work, they said. No magic. Too many characters; you don’t care about any of them. The main character is dull. The movie is dull. It’s too slow. The split screen only multiplies the boredom. The jokes all fall flat.
Forewarned, forearmed, expectations lowered, we decided to go anyway.
And we really liked it. Both of us.
One useful point the critics made is that this is no re-creation of the Woodstock Music Festival itself. It really is a sideways, faraway view of that. It all swirls around Elliot; he is not, he wasn’t, at the center of it.
But that perspective worked for me just fine. It was exciting to see more and more, cooler and cooler, people come to town. It was fun to see the effects on the townspeople. Yes, there are a lot of characters, but I generally enjoyed my brief time with each. The main character may not have been the most interesting of them, but that was the point, and to me made him easier to identify with. The jokes did not fall flat; a lot of it was really funny. And it was quite the cast: Imelda Staunton, Eugene Levy, Robert Downie Junior, and newcomer Jonathan Groff (as zen concert promoter Michael Lang), whom I expect we’ll be seeing more of.
The split screen, while making it a bit confusing what to focus on, did harken nicely to the famous documentary, as did the mudslide scene. Elliot’s one acid-fueled glimpse at the famous stage really is a gorgeous. And the whole thing was a nice reminder that it was pretty amazing that so many kids came together, in conditions so far from ideal (mud, rain, show stoppages, inadequate toilet facilities, inadequate water and food, traffic jams for miles), yet have the whole thing be entirely peaceful. It may not have been the dawning of the age of Aquarius, but it was still a really nice weekend.
So there you go. If this sounds like the type of movie you would like, if you’re not sick to death of boomers and their nostalgia for the 60s, then try it. I think you’ll like it.