Rated R for graphic nudity, some sexual content, drug use and language, 110 minutes
Enjoyable, fun "Taking Woodstock" leaves out the music
Ang Lee's "Taking Woodstock" is about the legendary music festival that shaped a generation was organized. It's a blast to the past, an enjoyable and energetic movie evoking many of the moods and feelings of the 1960's, though it's devoid of the most important thing about Woodstock: the music. Still, Oscar-winning director Lee has assembled a great cast and some memorable moments about the hippie-music fest that changed music forever.
"Taking Woodstock" is a fact-based movie based on the memoir of the same name from Elliot Tiber (played by Comedy Central's Demetri Martin in the film), who was supposedly instrumental in landing the August, 1969 festival in White Lake, New York after a nearby town canceled. His elderly parents, Jake and Sonia Teichberg (Henry Goodman and Imelda Staunton), operate a run-down motel that becomes the headquarters for the festival's organizers led by young concert promoter Mike Lang (Jonathan Groff), who have the festival on a nearby dairy farm owned by Max Yasgur (Eugene Levy). They're unaware that a half-million people will eventually descend into the area for the festival and shaping a whole generation of music.
"Taking Woodstock" arrives in theatres in time to celebrate the 40th anniversary of one of the most pivotal moments in rock music history, and the lively, memorable dramedy will likely arouse many memories for those that experienced it first-hand. Tiber's account of the events has been disputed by some, particularly Lang, for giving himself a seemingly greater role in Woodstock's development than what really happened (Tiber, for example, didn't introduce Lang to farmer Yasgur as shown in the film) and much of it seems hastily summarized for screen purposes. Still, it's fun seeing all the hippies descend on upstate New York celebrating life and music and creating a miles-long, now legendary traffic jam to the concert.
It also helps that Lee has assembled a large but talented cast who make a good impression. Stand-up comedian Martin grounds the film well as Elliot, though Oscar nominee Staunton steals scenes as his amusing but hard-working mother; Levy has a couple of fun moments in a small role as the fast-talking Yasgur, a dairy farmer looking for a good deal. Some of the others are composite or fictional characters, including Liev Schreiber as a tough guy with some identity issues and Emilie Hirsch as a vet with some clear psychological issues. Watch for others in small roles or cameos: Mamie Gummer (Meryl Streep's daughter), "Grey's Anatomy's" Jeffrey Dean Morgan, "Little Miss Sunshine's" Paul Dano and Richard "John Boy" Thomas.
"Taking Woodstock" is an interesting, often vibrant (and likely condensed) account of how the music festival was organized, though its chief flaw is the fact that it's completely devoid of any of the actual festival music. As fascinating as it was to get it off the ground, it would've helped to have even some brief flashes of Joplin, Hendrix, CCR or Crosby, Stills and Nash, though considering the film's low budget that seems impossible. Still, the producers of "Taking Woodstock" should've paid the sums required to have at least a couple of tunes to really take audiences back to the moment.
"Taking Woodstock" is just one memorable aspect of the Woodstock festival, but given the its 40th anniversary, it may be worth checking out the vivid 1970 Oscar-winning documentary, aptly titled "Woodstock," to get a genuine taste of the real musical experience.