Taking Woodstock

Ang Lee's latest is a piece of froth – delightful to be sure and vastly enjoyable, but it doesn't leave any great lasting impression. It tells the story of young Elliot Teichberg (Martin) who is unhappily staying with and working with his parents at their Catskills motel in the sweet summer of '69. A rock music festival that was due to take place at a neighbouring town has had to be rescheduled and the promoters are looking for a suitable new venue.

Elliot volunteers his motel to the staff and suggests his neighbour's 600 acre farm as the setting for the concert. Soon the townspeople are besieged with demonstrators, hippies,.activists, bikers, flower children and all those other beautiful people that descended to Woodstock for that blissful weekend of peace and love. Elliot's burgeoning sexuality is given vent and he rebels against his stern mother. He goes to the concert but his journey is waylaid by a hippie couple who turn him on and make him drop out.

There's much going on here. Lee keeps the events moving briskly with a jaunty freewheeling air. All the characters, with only a few exceptions, are loving and charming - no real dirt or malice is ever shown. And there isn't much character development either - Schreiber's caring transvestite is given little to do for example - but it's the feeling of generational change that the concert elicited that comes across well.

The music is heard and the stage is seen from a very far off distance but we never see the performers. Lee wants us in with the crowd soaking up the atmosphere and the drugs - he doesn't want realism that's for sure. And for a couple of hours he holds us in the palm of his hand and it's a wonderful place to be -  fresh, funny and consistently engaging with likeable performances. Groovily recommended if you're not too fussy.

Taking Woodstock at IMDb

Stuart O'Connor is the Managing Editor of Screenjabber, the movie review website he co-founded with Neil Davey far too many years ago. He likes all genres, as long as the film is good (although he does enjoy the occasional bad "guilty pleasure"), and drinks way too much coffee.

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