Film Review: 'Taking Woodstock'

 

Film Review: 'Taking Woodstock'

 

Date: September 2, 2009
by: Pam Nadon | Film Critic

 
 

Something I've always regretted in my life was not having seized the opportunity to attend Woodstock back in 1969. You see, I was one of those pseudo-hippies with a job during summer break, thus suggesting I must have been a true capitalist at heart. I did, however, see the documentary "Woodstock," which hugely reinforced that regret. So, needless to say, I've been eagerly anticipating Oscar-winning director Ang Lee's new film, "Taking Woodstock."

But Lee's take on Woodstock went far beyond my expectations. Instead of three days of peace and music, he concentrate on stories behind the scenes as seen through the eyes of its main character, Eliott Tiber (Demetri Martin), rather than on the concert itself. Eliott has returned to his parent's dilapidated motel in order to save them from bankruptcy. Located in White Lake, N.Y., the motel is just a few miles from Max Yasgur's (Eugene Levy) dairy farm — the property destined to become the center of the universe for those three amazing days.

The film chronicles the unlikely sequence of events, which attracted more than 500,000 people (original estimates had been, at most, maybe 1,000) to this sleepy little town. Politics, power struggles and pot all play a major role in what became an unbelievable happening.

Lee, known for his incredible insight into the human psyche ("The Ice Storm" and "Brokeback Mountain") always seems to take the path less traveled. In "Taking Woodstock," once again, he shies away from the obvious and delves into what really counts. Each of his main character's lives is drastically transformed by their involvement with the concert, for the better.

Eliott comes out of the closet and takes charge of his own life instead of his parent's. Mom and Dad (delightfully played by Imelda Staunton and Henry Goodman), seemingly, for the first time in their troubled lives let loose their inhibitions by consuming laced brownies. Billy (Emile Hirsch), Eliott's childhood friend/Vietnam vet who suffers from post traumatic stress disorder, suddenly steps back into reality while taking part in the celebration. Vilma (Liev Schreiber, in an Oscar-worthy performance), a cross-dressing ex-Marine, is about the only one whose life doesn't change because he's had his head together for years.

"Taking Woodstock" is a great trip. Insightful and enlightening, it sheds light on some of the other aspects of Woodstock: the long lines, crowds so huge that only a few caught glimpses of the performers and pretty filthy conditions. I owe a deep debt of gratitude to Lee for replacing my long-standing regret with welcome relief.

 

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