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Matthew Razak avatar 7:18 AM on 08.28.2009
Monday Review: Taking Woodstock



'Woodstock' wants it all, but misses

I was not alive to experience Woodstock, and since the hippie movement (or anything like it) doesn't seem to be coming back any time soon I seriously doubt I'll have the pleasure of ever experiencing anything like it. No, us twenty-somethings must rely on documentaries and stories from our parents to attempt to understand how important the concert was and exactly how it felt. It is then a little disappointing that Taking Woodstock simply scratches the surface of what Woodstock meant, fleetingly dabbling in true ideas while mostly staying light and airy.

The main issue seems to be that Taking Woodstock wants to be two different movies. One is a screwball comedy that plays off the antics of hippies, Vietnam vets and New York Jews and the other is a serious film about the changing world of the late 1960s. Sadly, making fun of the hippies and the culture of the 60s completely contradicts praising it and them, and thus the film unevenly wobbles between its own ideas, unsure if it wants to treat the generation of peace and love with reverence or as a bunch of cliche punchlines.

However, this doesn't make Taking Woodstock a bad movie. When it is on point about the culture and the festival it shines. Most of the time this is when the film is about its lead character Elliot Teichberg (Demetri Martin) and not about the planning of the concert and the hippies who invade the small town Teichberg lives in so they can come to Woodstock. Elliot and his parents own a motel that is on the skids, and so, Elliot invites Woodstock to town, and Woodstock comes. It's Elliot's story of love, finding himself and acceptance within the context of the concert that gets interesting eventually, but the slow pacing could definitely throw a few people off.

Of course it wouldn't be an Ang Lee film if it wasn't full of slow pacing. The director couldn't even make Hulk move quickly. Aside from the pacing though -- which may or may not be a bad thing -- Lee does some very solid directing. A drug induced trip is one of the better moments of the film where the movie seems to be actually taking itself seriously instead of simply sloshing its way through the stereotypes of hippies. This comes near the end, as does most of the powerful parts of the film, but the film's opening didn't attach viewers enough to the characters thanks to the levity and inconsistency and thus the scenes that should be powerful are simply a wash.

Again, it's hard to not enjoy aspects of Taking Woodstock. The film is indeed not bad. The acting is fine, the directing works well and the film's story is interesting enough to carry it through its over two hour running time. Thanks to its inconsistencies though it never truly seems to be about something and for a movie about a concert and a generation that was the epitome of being "about something" that is a terrible crime. Taking Woodstock is a fine film, it just isn't what it wants to be or what it should be.

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