I was looking forward to Taking Woodstock for so many reasons. First of all, I've always been a bit obsessed with Woodstock -- and bummed that my birth wasn't better timed so that I could have been a part of such a defining moment. And secondly, I have such high expectations for movies by director Ang Lee. I still believe that The Ice Storm was a very powerful portrait of life in the 1970s -- and one of the most under-appreciated films of the 1990s. And then there's his crowning achievements from this decade: the captivating Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and his Oscar-winning Brokeback Mountain, which will forever be remembered as the gay cowboy movie -- but actually is a great love story period. Unfortunately, Taking Woodstock doesn't quite match the quality of these earlier successes.
Set in the summer of 1969, the film follows the true story of Elliot Teichberg (Demetri Martin), an aspiring Greenwich Village interior designer whose parents owned a tiny dilapidated motel in upstate New York. He held a musical festival permit for the town of Bethel and offered it and accommodations at the Catskills motel to the organizers of Woodstock. With a mix of comedy and drama, Lee does capture some of what made the event so memorable -- the huge crowd, the rain, the mud, the drugs, the free love, etc. But if you're expecting to hear the actual music of the festival, you'll be sadly disappointed.
It was not Lee's intent to do a documentary of the music. Rather, the film is a character study focusing on Teichberg and his internal struggles to help his wacky parents (Imelda Staunton, Henry Goodman) manage their lives while longing to have a life of his own. Martin (best known for his work on TV's Comedy Central) impressed me with a quiet, conflicted performance. Conversely, Staunton and Goodman are a bit over-the-top and too-consuming. So we're left wanting more of the supporting characters that are never fully fleshed out -- that of a festival organizer (Jonathon Groff), and a transvestite (Liev Schreiber), and a Vietnam vet (Emile Hirsch), and even Max Yasgur (Eugene Levy) -- who's nearby farm becomes the site of the concert. Still, there's plenty to like about the film -- especially if you're interested in a period piece. Let's face it, that summer was arguably one of the most compelling periods in history. But just like the Woodstock organizers correctly believed 40 years ago, maybe some music would have helped make things so much better. [Rated R; opens today]
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- Woodstock was just one of the major happenings in the summer of 1969 -- which included man's first landing on the moon, the Manson murders and top-of-mind this week, the Ted Kennedy Chappaquiddick incident. Take a trip back to the most eventful summer ever here.