August 29, 2009

Taking Woodstock (08/29/09)

Lettergrade: D

We saw this one because my wife and I often love Ang Lee movies, but for a number of reasons I cannot really recommend Taking Woodstock. It wasn't that bad to start with: I really like Demetri Martin's stand-up comedy as well as his TV show, but had never really seen him in a dramatic acting role like this. Here he plays Elliot Teichberg, a very likable but sad aspiring artist who moved back to upstate New York in order to help his Russian Jewish immigrant parents manage their ratty motel in the country. For one reason or another, he never left. Ultimately, he uses his position in local government and his connection to nearby dairy farmer Max Yasgur (played by Eugene Levy) in order to allow the August 1969 event known as Woodstock to come together.

In spite of my admiration for Lee and his cast, I'm not really into Woodstock era music, I can't claim to really have a strong connection to hippie culture and what it might have been about in 1969, and I've never taken an hallucinogenic drug nor do I have any interest in doing so. Above all else, I hate crowds. All these things kind of conspired to create a great indifference within me over what happened during much of the picture's painfully sluggish running time.

But wait, there's more: I felt that the very winning characters who appear on-screen are woefully under-developed. Demetri in particular appears to be gay, but it's unclear how "out" he his to his friends and family in addition to how at peace he might be with his own sexuality. We see him kiss women and men in the movie... but is this the first time he has done the latter? Call me simple minded, but I kinda need a little more substance. And I sort of want details and clear internal struggles like this to go somewhere.

The movie was rushed a little in order to get to Cannes in May, and then rushed again to get into theaters around the 40th anniversary of Woodstock in mid-August. Maybe a little more time could have made this movie more meaningful? Maybe not. In any case, it's sort of a waste of time.

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