Movie Review: Taking Woodstock
The events leading up to Woodstock provide the backdrop for a sweet coming of age movie.
If you are of the Woodstock generation, and you go to this film expecting to relive your memories of the festival with all the musical trappings included, you will be sorely disappointed. If you are of the Woodstock generation and you go into this movie knowing exactly what it is about, you may be delighted.
The foregone conclusion about this pleasant film is that it is about Woodstock. It is, in fact, specifically about the events leading up to Woodstock, which serves as a backdrop for the story of a dysfunctional family. This movie doesn’t have concert footage. Most of the scenes during the festival actually take place in the crowds, not on the stage. That does not mean this movie should be avoided. Just take it for what it is, a coming of age story with the Woodstock festival as the backdrop.
Comedian Demetri Martin stars in a breakout role as Elliot Teichberg, the son of Russian immigrants, and I suspect we’ll see a lot more from him in the future. He is fantastic. His family’s motel (The Monaco Resort) is in shambles, and Elliot puts his life plans on hold to try to help his parents hold on to their property. He seizes the opportunity to host Woodstock when another town pulls the plug a mere month before showtime, which consequently changes the dynamic of his family and the town they inhabit forever.
The concert planners arrive by helicopter, and golden boy Michael Lang (Jonathon Groff) emerges in a leather vest and enormous mop top, cooly accessing the property. He retains that level of calm throughout the movie, whatever obstacles come their way. He plunks down a bag of cash to rent out the entire motel for his motley crew to live in while they build the sound stage and plan the festival. Elliot’s overbearing mother tolerates the hippies with dollar signs dancing in her eyes.
The uptight Elliot learns to live a little during the chaos his life is thrown into. He is persona non grata with the townspeople for bringing the hippies to town. They are convinced that their town will be raped and pillaged by the tourists. He smokes pot, takes his first acid trip, and explores his sexuality. He emerges from the experience a grown man, and confronts some family demons along the way.
Taking Woodstock boasts an excellent cast. In addition to Demetri Martin’s inaugural cinematic bow, Emile Hirsch, Paul Dano, Jeffrey Dean Morgan , Eugene Levy, and Paul Dano all grace the screen at various moments. Liev Schreiber plays a transvestite who offers Elliot some life lessons about being comfortable with your sexuality and provides security for the family when mobsters smell money and decide they want a piece of the action.
Directed by Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain, Sense and Sensibility) and adapted from a memoir by Elliot Tiber, the movie does a fantastic job exposing someone from my generation to what all the fuss was about. I never “got” Woodstock (please don’t throw rocks at me), but now I understand a little more clearly why this event was so life changing to so many people, and why it is still so pervasive in American culture. You can’t walk into any department store right now without being bombarded by an onslaught of Woodstock graphic tees, commemorating the 40th anniversary of the event.
In particular, I enjoyed the breathtaking scenes of oceans of people descending upon the giant hill by foot, bike, horse, or car. It was a sight to behold. So, forgive me. I just had Lollapalooza, you had Woodstock. I get it.
Frothygirlz rating 7.5/10