Elliot Teichberg, the hero of this modestly diverting flower-power comedy-drama, manages to succeed where Brokeback Mountain's Ennis Del Mar, The Ice Storm's Mikey Carver and the incredible Hulk all failed: he escapes an Ang Lee movie into a world that offers something better than emotional repression and furtive release. The setting, unbeknownst to the characters, is the Summer of Love; nudnik Elliot, played by Demetri Martin, tends to his parents' rattle-trap motel in upstate New York while nursing ambitions of hosting a sleepy arts festival. When the location falls through for a nearby concert event—hint: see title—Elliot brokers a meeting between the hippie organizers and dairy farmer Max Yasgur (Eugene Levy in American Pie so-uncool-he's-cool dad mode)...and history is made.
Adapted by Lee's longtime collaborator James Schamus from Elliot Tiber's memoir, the movie overstates its understatement. Half the movie is small-town sitcom quirkiness with a weirdly muffled tone, a Newhart episode overlaid with The Last Picture Show's desolation. The other half keeps the actual Woodstock performances offscreen but blankets the mundane details of ticket selling, construction logistics and sunflower-seed purchasing with a haze of cultural significance. Elliot may miss much of the show, but fear not—as organizer Michael Lang (Jonathan Groff) tells him, with the oracular tone of a peasant in a history pageant directing Napoleon to Waterloo, they can meet up a few months later at that groovy free show in San Francisco...with the Stones! Psych!
The surprise about Taking Woodstock is how seamlessly it meshes with Lee's other movies—not just the many emotional closet-cases who populate his films dating all the way back to The Wedding Banquet, but also the split-screen editing strategy he adopted for the underrated Hulk (here used to evoke memories of the Woodstock documentary). Even when the parts traipse into caricature, the connections between the actors register warmly—like the post-Stonewall rapport between Liev Schreiber's sweet transvestite (the movie's most winning character) and Martin's gawky Elliot. As a whole, though, the movie evaporates almost as you watch. To paraphrase the old hippie bromide, you may not remember Taking Woodstock even if you were there. JIM RIDLEY
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