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Taking Woodstock: Movie Review

Three stars
Genre: Comedy
Rated: R
Directed by:
Ang Lee
Demetri Martin, Paul Dano, Emile Hirsch, Imelda Staunton, Henry Goodman, Liev Schreiber, Kelli Garner

Released by: Focus Features

In Short: Director Ang Lee tells a tale of Woodstock, minus—critically—the music.
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Back to the Garden
The root stock of "Woodstock"

Here's a little known fact we learned from Taking Woodstock: dairy farmer Max Yasgur, who rented his farm out for the 1969 festival billed as "3 days of Peace and Music," produced the best chocolate milk for miles. The movie itself is like that chocolate milk... but without the chocolate, since it's missing the whole reason for the festival: the music. This doesn't mean it's a bad film, but it might mean that appreciating it requires altering one's expectations.

Although it's set amidst the ultimate whirling, swirling, gonzo spectacle of the last half-century, Taking Woodstock boils down to a small story of a small family. It's based on a memoir by Elliot Tiber (played by Demetri Martin), whose parents, Jake and Sonia Teichberg (Henry Goodman and Imelda Staunton), owned a run-down motel on the brink of foreclosure in the Catskill Mountains in upstate New York. Elliot, an artistic soul, heard of a group of hippies seeking a venue for a music festival and arranged to bring the music to Max's meadow. Soon the audience, originally billed as five thousand, ballooned to an estimated half-million, besetting the Teichbergs and their hamlet.

Kelli Garner, Demetri Martin and Paul Dano in Taking Woodstock Emile Hirsch in Taking Woodstock

You know what comes next: long hair, hallucinogens, mud, peace signs, free love and nudity, frequently depicted in split-screen glory. With this film, director Ang Lee again deftly recreates a place and time, as he did in The Ice Storm, Sense and Sensibility and Brokeback Mountain.

Lee has also populated the film with memorable characters–chief among them Liev Schreiber as a pistol-packing drag queen and Eugene Levy as Yasgur–though these roles end up being little more than cameos, since most of the screen time belongs to Elliot. Fortunately, even though this is Martin's first starring film role (he has a TV show on Comedy Central), he has the low-key comic chops–and shag haircut–to pull it off.

Taking Woodstock may not hit the spot like chocolate milk, but plain milk can satisfy too. You can rent a DVD of the concert for dessert.

Reviewed by Andrew Bender


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