Ang Lee’s Taking Woodstock was a very offbeat, interesting look at the epic event that was the first Woodstock Music & Art Festival in 1969. Instead of the typical documentary following the main performing artists, this film offered a point of view we haven’t gotten before. Demetri Martin is Elliot Teichberg — a young man trying to come into his own while sacrificing his money and life to help his parents run their failing motel near the Catskill Mountains in New York. It was refreshing to see Martin not doing stand-up comedy but tackling a dynamic role.
Throughout the film director Lee (The Ice Storm, Brokeback Mountain) focuses mainly on the transformation of Elliot — which just happens to be propelled by the merging of hundreds of thousands of people from different walks of life right in his backyard. After years of stifling his own future to help his parents, which fulfill the stereotype of stodgy Jewish people (sorry!), Elliot decides to take life into his own hands. Elliot helped make the Woodstock event happen — when the event’s planned venue revokes its permit, Elliot suggests his town as the perfect location.
While I like watching Elliot’s transformation, I also liked seeing his own parents open up and become more sensitive. Jake and Sonia (played by Henry Goodman and Imelda Staunton) are stuck in a rut. They run a crappy motel, but it’s not by bad luck. His mother is so stingy with their money that she almost sabotages their livelihood. By the film’s end even Elliot’s parents can’t deny the power of opening your mind to others — even if they did it unknowingly via hash brownies. Which is one of the film’s more hilarious moments.
I would have liked if the film’s pace was a little quicker, but I guess that’s what we get with an Ang Lee film. Too much of the film was leading up to the momentous event. I think less of the planning of the event and more of Elliot meeting people and experiencing life’s mind-altering opportunities would have been more entertaining.
The film’s supporting cast brought about some of the most memorable moments. Jonathan Groff (“Glee”) as Michael Lang — co-creator of Woodstock — was outstanding at portraying the hippie vibe/optimism that ‘everything will work out.’ Liev Schreiber (Scream) as a trans-gender bodyguard was one of my favorite characters. He was a sensitive person but happened to kick ass too. Other noteworthy characters were played by Eugene Levy, a local farmer who lets Woodstock occur on his expansive land, Emile Hirsch (Into the Wild), a scarred Vietnam veteran, and Dan Fogler as the leader of a free-spirited theater troupe.