In 1969 a concert took place in upper New York state that has lived in legend for decades. It was called Woodstock and it was a celebration that drew a generation of hippies and anti-war protesters to a farm in the New York Catskills. They came by the thousands to listen to the best musicians of the day play and sing for three days. Ang Lee's new film Taking Woodstock primarily addresses the days leading up to the concert and how it came to be.
The film focuses on a young man named Elliot (Demetri Martin). Elliot has moved back home to help his parents run their motel. It is barely surviving and Elliot is doing all he can to keep it from folding. His mother (Imelda Staunton) operates it on the cheap, cutting costs at every turn. His father (Henry Goodman) does his part by making repairs, etc.
One day Elliot learns of a concert looking for a venue. He invites the backers to his small town and a deal is made for the Woodstock concert to take place in the area. The movie deals with the day to day actions that led up to this event. It also focuses on Elliot and his growth while being involved in it all.
If this doesn't sound like much of a plot, well that's because it isn't much of a plot. Ang Lee does nothing to capture the joy and excitement leading up to the event, but instead focuses on the complaints of the local townspeople, the attempt by organized crime to take over, and the problems Elliot has getting it all into place.
Martin is bland as Elliot while Staunton is great at being annoying as his mother. Eugene Levy has a few goods scenes as a local with a great big farm, but Emile Hirsch is wasted as a Vietnam vet suffering flashbacks.
Mamie Gummer looks so much like her mother Meryl Streep that you enjoy her performance for that fact alone. Who cares that her character is never defined, and that she has only a couple of scenes at best; she's Meryl Streep's daughter!
Best of the cast are Liev Schreiber as a cross-dressing security guard, and Jonathan Groff as Michael, the man with the vision of the concert/festival. These two draw your attention each time they are on the screen.
The film is rated R for profanity, drug use and nudity.
Nothing much happens in Taking Woodstock. The huge crowds are seen as is the rain and mud. The openness about sex and drugs is front and center. It is a time that seems to be as far from today as possible, and for some in the audience that will be a good thing.
It is difficult to believe this is an Ang Lee film. Never before has he created one that is this disjointed and tedious. Getting through the movie is like climbing the hills toward Woodstock in the rain. It just wears you out.
I scored "Taking Woodstock" a stolen 3 out of 10.