Rajeev Masand – movies that matter : from bollywood, hollywood and everywhere else

October 9, 2009

Hippy go lucky

Filed under: Their Films — Rajeev @ 11:07 pm

October 09, 2009

Cast: Henry Goodman, Edward Hibbert, Imelda Staunton

Director: Ang Lee

Every once in a while you’ll come across a film you’ll wish you could go inside. Whose world is so far removed from yours and so attractive, that you’ll wish you could be a part of that world. Ang Lee’s Taking Woodstock is that kind of film.

Despite what its title might suggest, Lee’s film is not about the music festival at all. You don’t see actors playing Hendrix, or Janis Joplin, or any of the 32 acts that made rock music history forty years ago. In fact, you barely get the music either, as most of the concert takes place out of sight of the camera.

The film, based on Elliot Tiber’s memoir, concerns itself with a young man’s unlikely role in the ultimate location and launch of the 1969 Woodstock festival.

Demetri Martin stars as Elliot, a young interior designer living in Greenwich Village, who moves upstate to save his parents’ business, a rundown motel in the small Catskills town of White Lake, New York.

On hearing that a neighboring town has pulled its permit for a planned arts and music festival, Elliot calls the promoter to suggest his community as an alternative.

Soon the concert staff moves into his motel, and half a million hippies descend upon the nearby dairy farm for “three days of peace and music”.

The film’s charm lies in its ability to evoke an infectious communal spirit, and to transport you to that 600-acre farm as a participant in the madness of putting up that festival.

Even Elliot’s hard-ass mother (played by the excellent Imelda Staunton) who has been charging money for towels and hanging up sheets in the rooms to turn them into “triples”, warms up by the end of this life-altering weekend.

Despite its languid pace, Taking Woodstock is a joyous, exhilarating film that neither shies away nor lingers too long on the inevitable scenes of drug use and sexual freedom.

It introduces us also to unpredictable, exciting characters like the muscular cross-dresser (played by Liev Shreiber) who serves as Elliot’s security chief, the Vietnam War-vet coping with depression (played by Emile Hirsch), and the mysterious but charismatic chief promoter of the festival (played by Jonathon Groff).

You could argue that the vital ingredient missing here is the music itself, and you probably wouldn’t be off-chord. But Lee’s film is really about the local impact of Woodstock on a small town. In that, it works perfectly as a coming-of-age drama; a film about change and transformation even — both of the individual, and of society at large.

I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five for Ang Lee’s Taking Woodstock; it’s a mellow, graceful comedy oozing 60s nostalgia. Allow yourself to be swept away by its easy charm.

(This review first appeared on CNN-IBN)

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