Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Taking Woodstock

Written by: James Schamus

Directed by: Ang Lee

Starring: Demetri Martin, Henry Goodman, Imelda Staunton, Eugene Levy, Liev Schreiber

Rating: 6/10

Director Ang Lee is certainly in no fear of being pigeon-holed. Just file him under “Miscellaneous”. His films have ranged from gay cowboys to period drama to super-heroes. His latest piece of work Taking Woodstock bears many of his signatures but is, yet again, vastly different from his previous work. This film tells the story of the notorious Woodstock festival from the point of view of young, desperate, motel-owner’s son, Eliot (Martin) who initially suggests his tiny town of White River as a possible site for the concert. As chaos descends upon the town it brings new leases of life in spades upon the town, but also brings its fair share of contempt from the locals.
The beauty of this film is the microcosm from which the story grows. The audience doesn’t get to see every little detail of the organisation of the festival, but only sees what Eliot sees. Eliot is smart as a whip, confident and sensible and he is cleverly introduced as a likeable, competent and resourceful guy but as the story progresses it is interesting to see how quickly he is pulled under the current of hippies and suits and farmers and family, barely keeping his head above water.
Lee, as always, creates a beautiful world. A world that shows as many sides of the story as possible; the lunacy of hippies, the beauty of hippies, the close-mindedness of small towns, the open-mindedness of small towns, the muck, the sunshine, the pain, the freedom, it’s all here in a mix of stories and characters.
What drags this film down is its pacing. Throughout the whole film, although it moves along constantly, it feels like it is dragging its heels. As it approaches the end of the film there is an ill-advised LSD sequence that not only takes the attention away from the story but also fails miserably in its effort to depict the trip as beautiful, but comes across as rather creepy instead. The script is poorly constructed at times with a wealth of superfluous characters creeping in and out.
Despite its flaws, this is a pleasant film to watch with some strong performances from comedian Demetri Martin in a very demanding but successful lead role and from two Brits (Staunton and Goodman) playing his wonderfully over-the-top Jewish parents.
This is probably not a very memorable film, but it is quite beautiful to look at and certainly invokes the spirit of a musical festival in all its glory, but be warned there is no actual Woodstock footage, so don’t expect a documentary. This film is staunchly centred on our lead character and his remarkable true story.

- Charlene Lydon

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