Taking Woodstock

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The ViewAuckland Review

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Review byMatthew Turner17/11/2009

Two out of Five stars
Running time: 120 mins

Ang Lee's 11th film is a watchable drama with likeable performances but it never quite comes together, thanks to an unfocussed screenplay that stumbles badly in the second half.

What's it all about?
Directed by Ang Lee and based on a true story, Taking Woodstock stars Demetri Martin as interior designer Elliot Tiber, who moves back to his parents' (Imelda Staunton and Henry Goodman) run-down motel in the Catskills when he runs out of money in New York. With the motel facing foreclosure, Elliot thinks he's found the perfect solution when he learns that a friend from the city (Jonathan Groff as Michael Lang) needs a venue for his three-day music festival.

However, things quickly spiral out of control, as it becomes clear that no one (not even Lang) has quite grasped how huge Woodstock is going to be, even before Elliot inadvertently indicates that the concert will be free during a press conference. Meanwhile, Elliot meets up with a friend who's just back from Vietnam (Emile Hirsch), flirts with a construction worker (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and drops acid in the back of a VW bus with a couple of hippies (Paul Dano and Kelli Garner).

The Good
Comedian Demetri Martin makes a likeable lead and there's strong support from the always-excellent Emile Hirsch, a scene-stealing Liev Schreiber (as a cross-dressing ex-Marine in charge of security) and Imelda Staunton, who brings a weird intensity to the Jewish-mother-from-the-old-country stereotype and makes her character simultaneously disturbing, pitiable and darkly funny as a result. In addition, Groff is superb as the unflappable, charismatic Lang, whilst Dano, Garner and Morgan contribute colourful turns in minor roles.

The Bad
The first half of the film is sharply written and extremely enjoyable but the script loses its way in the second half, becoming messy and unfocussed once the festival kicks off. It doesn't help that the filmmakers don’t use any of the actual Woodstock music or footage from the concert.

In addition, having raised several promising plot strands (the local community opposing the concert, Elliot's homosexuality), the script never really gets to grips with any of them, so the film fails to connect on an emotional level.

Worth seeing?
Taking Woodstock is a watchable drama with good performances but it's let down by a disappointing screenplay that fails to connect on an emotional level. Matthew Turner

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Content updated: 20/02/2020 20:42

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