Taking Woodstock Directed by: Ang Lee Cast: Demetri Martin, Imdelda Staunton, Henry Goodman, Eugene Levy, Liev Schreiber, Emile Hirsch Running Time: 2 hrs Rating: R Release Date: August 28, 2009
Plot: A man working at his parents' motel in the Catskills inadvertently sets in motion the generation-defining concert in the summer of 1969.
Who’s It For? It's R because of nudity, but this is not the sexy nudity. This is hippy stuff. Taking Woodstock puts you in 1969, unfortunately it's mainly nostalgia that should make you head to the theaters, not great story telling.
Expectations: There's room for a great Woodstock film, so I was thinking Ang Lee could definitely be the guy to deliver. Plus, Martin is an interesting casting choice and I always like Hirsch.
Demetri Martin as Elliot Teichberg: Martin is known for his stand up comedy and he takes this chance to try drama. I know they are billing this as a comedy, but it's a drama. Martin is mild as a guy trying to sell his motel, his town and himself. It seems like he's very together in the beginning so it takes a while to realize this is a coming-of-age story with Martin trying to deal with who he is in these changing times. Score: 5
Imelda Staunton as Sonia Teichberg: Staunton gives evil a good name. Sonia is Elliot's Russian mother and is very uptight while running the El Monaco motel. We don't get to see her evolve but she surely is something to watch. It'd be weird to call her entertaining, because she's so uptight, but it is very effective. Score: 7
Henry Goodman as Jake Teichberg: Jake is stuck with Sonia, but he doesn't seem to mind. Eventually, he becomes the heart of the film along with Schreiber. It's a shock, but you just want more of them. This is mainly because they are embracing the moment better than anyone else during the movie. Think about it, you want to have fun with Woodstock, right? Thankfully Jake does. Score: 7
Emile Hirsch as Billy: Hirsch is just in and out as the role of a veteran back from Vietnam looking for something to do. Unfortunately this feels "been there, done that." There isn't enough time given to Hirsch to let this performance stand out in this film, and eventually it begins to feel out of place. Score: 4
Liev Schreiber as Vilma: I just found myself wanting to give Vilma a big warm hug. Schreiber goes from Sabertooth to a cross-dressing man perfectly (in other words, you lose yourself in his performance). Everything feels safe when he's around. Jake and Vilma make a great pair, to the point where I wanted less of everyone if it meant more time with these two. Score: 8
Talking:"Groovy" and "far out" fit with Woodstock, but just barely. Those terms have almost jumped the shark even though they're historical accurate. Just like Martin's performance, the dialogue is mild. Love, sexuality, and the most legendary rock concert of all time all seem like they should be bigger. Score: 5
Sights: Yup, you're there. Mind you, you're not near the concert, but Lee truly has the look of the film down. Not that I am an expert, but it seems to be historically precise. The ultimate moment is when a police officer gives Martin a ride toward the concert. It's a great single shot that puts you as close to the concert as you're going to get ... on the screen and in real life. Score: 9
Sounds: Hmm.... Woodstock isn't about the music. I know some critics will rave about the music, but it never really feels like it's part of the film. We don't get stuck with people imitating Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, Janis Joplin and The Who, but we also don't fall back in love with any classics. Maybe the one exception is "Maggie M'Gill" by The Doors. There are rarities from Sweetwater Group, The Seeds and others but it's hard to pick them out during the film. Score: 6
Perhaps instead of calling this film Taking Woodstock it should be called Things That Lead Up To Woodstock and Then Happen Near It. There are some nice stories here like Vilma and Jake as an odd pair trying to control and enjoy the hippies that flock to the festival. Expectations are sometime tough to shake though, so when music and the concert never take center stage the name Taking in the title evokes emotions that never come to fruition.
While the look of the film is great, the connection to the events just aren't there. It feels too simple. Some performances just don't connect on the big screen (like Martin) and others seem to random and sterotypcial (like Hirsch).
The style and some of the camera techniques are taken, perhaps as a homage from the Woodstock documentary. And this feels like something that can be part of Woodstock, but more of a small, side project than a story about the most important event about "Peace, Love and Rock 'n Roll."
Final Score: 6/10