A lot of things could
have improved Taking Woodstock, but the most important
one would have been a story. Some movies give you this feeling
something is happening and that it's all going somewhere, even
that it matters. They have beginnings, middles and ends. The
good ones even make you care where they're going and worry a
bit over the characters. This dog has none of that.
Demetri Martin has
some fame as an deadbeat, absurdist comic, but he brings none
of his charm to the lead role of a mid-20s artist who comes
home to help his stereotyped Jewish parents at their failing,
crappy roadside motel in the late 60s Catskills. Imelda Staunton's
oerformance as the Jewish mother isn't kosher to watch; it'll
smear ham all over your eyes. Martin tries to draw tourists
and save the motel, then an opportunity to host the legendary
concert lands in his lap. Of course, neither he nor anyone else
understands how damn big and hippie-infested the event's gonna
be until it's consumed their town and plugged up the New York
state thruway like a dozen or so deep-fried Oh Henry's clog
your bowels. For days. Until it hurts really bad every time
you bend over. Seriously.
The concert is a
godsend to Martin and his folks. For the overbearing, guilt-trip-laying
, money-grubbing Staunton (I think she had a previous life exchanging
money in a temple), it's cash by the buttload. She turns every
motel room into three, charges for pillows, towels and soap,
and they rent out space to the concert organizers. For the browbeaten,
well-intentioned father (Henry Goodman), it's some sort of vague
reconnection with youth and freedom. We're supposed to believe
he's been so beaten down by his wife that a bunch of smelly,
barefoot hippies is a treat. What is never shown with much conviction
is what Martin himself thinks of his role in putting this on.
I have no idea whether he felt overwhelmed, or like he betrayed
the townspeople, or was proud of it. It doesn't even bother
to tell us whether he likes the music or not. The movie just
isn't interested in letting its central character show much.
Once Woodstock, the
concert, happens, the free-loving hippies are everywhere, smoking
their weed and putting flowers in their hair. They hump in the
bushes and drink out of the swimming pool. They slide in mud
and flash each other a shitload of peace signs. The movie says
nothing new about the event. Hell, it doesn't say anything that
isn't already a clichÈ memorialized by Time/Life Books. That
gives the whole movie a real sense of being inauthentic and
made by people nostalgic for something they weren't even part
of. Taking Woodstock doesn't show the concert, staying
on the very far fringes. Very little of the three-day concert's
music is heard, either. The one time Martin's character bothers
to attend the show he gets sidetracked by taking LSD in a Volkswagen
Microbus with psychedelic drawings on its walls.
see, isn't about Woodstock, the event. It's about Martin "Taking
(wood)stock" of his life, becoming an independent person and
breaking free of his demanding mother and their shithole in
the Catskills. He's gay, too, and hooks up with carpenter working
on the concert stage. Yet, the movie never make clear whether
this is a breakthrough for Martin or a continuation of the way
he lives away from home. I don't know whether he's happy about
it or regretful. Did he just realize he's into the dudes, has
he always known but been afraid to act on his feelings, or has
he always liked feeling stubble when he kisses? Director Ang
Lee doesn't say and I didn't much care. The movie doesn't think
anything is. It's all just a long, flat journey to nowhere.
This is a small story
set against a monstrous and historic backdrop whose importance
overwhelms what happens on screen, because it's more interesting.
He avoids the concert, but it's too big to ignore. And when
he does reference it and the people it drew, his reliance is
on a hackneyed vision. Tie-dye, free love, lots of peace, everyone
getting groovy. I think a different backdrop could have freed
Lee to tell a better story, or at least give us richer characters
with more shit going on in their lives. Or better still, show
a new side of Woodstock, even if it was made up, could have
been used more directly to tell the story. I'm not saying Martin
should have fucked Janis Joplin or David Crosby, mainly because
I wouldn't even wish something that awful on Uwe Boll. But,
some more interesting link would have been nice.
Martin's main character
is a snore, and his performance does nothing to improve that.
His character's big obstacle is indecisiveness and reluctance
to stand up to his badass mother. The actor's range of emotions,
though, is so narrow that I got no sense any of it mattered
to him, or that breaking free made him happier. Most of the
other movie's characters are just so fucking weak and corny
that they really emphasize how far way from being real this
depiction of the 60s is. Staunton and Goodman give Norman-Lear-sitcom
portrayals of braying, unhappy Jews. They're as stiff and square
as Saltines from the thrift store, so you can be damn sure they'll
unknowingly get high and act crazy by the end of the movie.
Lee thinks watching old people laughing hysterically at nothing
is pure comedy gold. What? They couldn't work a foul-mouthed
granny into the script? The "avant garde" theater troupe at
the motel are supposed to be hilarious, but they act exactly
as you'd expect: ripping off clothes to startle the locals,
way-out there performance art and a leader who's going for the
Jack Black Award for Fat Man Overacting. Most confounding for
me, though, was Emile Hirsch as a kid back from Vietnam who
has cheesy flashbacks. He wears his army jacket and bitches
a lot about what he's lost in the war. The character is written
as though all the horrible Vietnam experience of our young men
must be distilled into a single person. He can't have his own
awful experience, but a greatest hits from the works of every
cornball Nam drama out there. And there are too many already.
Hirsch just acts agitated, unpleasant and lost for what his
character is supposed to be.
While the story moves like a turtle with a rock on its back,
the camera trickery hustles overtime. Much of the movie takes
place in split screens that don't illuminate the story. They
just multiply the stereotypes and cliches. That, and they make
it harder for me to know what to focus on. It's some fancy shit,
and maybe it has some meaning, but it sure as hell didn't make
a boring story any more interesting.
is just a bad fucking movie. Not much to say, no joy in saying
it, and all set against a backdrop that's tired and overtold.
Two Fingers, mostly because all that free love does mean
lots of boobs.
to tell Filthy Something?