Review: Taking Woodstock (2009)
Taking Woodstock isn't a perfect film, but it's unexpected, complicated and very good. Not strictly a meditation on the event itself, it's mostly about how it changed life for one person involved, and in that sense, it's pretty deep and effective.
Demetri Martin plays that one person, Elliot Teichberg, a young interior designer just a bit older than the general "Woodstock generation," who lives with his parents, Sonia and Jake (Imelda Staunton and Henry Goodman) in White Lake, New York, where they run the El Monaco "Hotel and Resort," a ramshackle motel with an aspiringly countercultural theatre troupe living in the barn.
In financial straits over paying the mortgage, a news story about the cancellation of the nearby planned site for the Woodstock music festival gives Elliot an idea which changes everything.
Bringing the festival to his town improves the family's financial picture a lot, as well as forcing the Teichbergs to get to know each other a lot better, alienating most of the townspeople and giving Elliot many different opportunites and options he wouldn't have gotten any other way.
The pleasures of the film are very much just watching Elliot move around his world, and this is because of Martin's strong performance. Having seen him do standup, there are some concerns at first that the role could be limited by his comic persona. But this doesn't happen.
His more familiar personality is glimpsed, but on the whole he plays Elliot as a young aspiring businessman who gets along well with people, loves his family even through difficulties, who gets his eyes knocked out of his head when the Love Generation arrives on his doorstep. It's a very promising dramatic lead debut for Martin.
Liev Schreiber is also a standout as Vilma, a former Marine/transvestite who shows up strapped to take over security for the El Monaco, and who helps Elliot get to know his parents and himself a bit better. Goodman and Staunton are both very good, despite some over-the-top stereotypical faults of their characters, but the actors pull it off the best they can. Emile Hirsch plays a returned Vietnam vet who was childhood friends with Elliot, and it's a solid cameo.
I read a few reviews which criticize the film for its lack of interest in the concert itself, but there are other movies which cover that quite well. Taking Woodstock has a satisfying rock and roll soundtrack and its own point of view about what was most important about the event, and it's worth telling.
Taking Woodstock is set in and around the namesake festival, so it's a Woodstock movie, but it's also a family story, a drug story, a sex story and a gay "coming of age" story (for a bit of a late bloomer). Not all the threads come together dramatically, but it mostly works.
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