Review: 'Woodstock' Is One Boring Trip, Man





In the summer of 1969, half a million people gathered in and around a 600-acre field in Bethel, N.Y., for what was officially described as three days of peace and music, and less officially as three days of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll—the Woodstock festival. If you can remember it, so the old joke goes, you probably weren't there. Former flower children who were on the scene and on psychotropics for those three fab, far-out days but are hazy on the details, and those who weren't there but want to know what happened, won't get much help from"Taking Woodstock," the gentle, ambling Ang Lee comedy that's a few tokes short of groovy. Mr. Lee has said in interviews that he didn't want to make a concert film, and he has succeeded: There's no concert here, no Joan Baez/Jefferson Airplane/John Sebastian/Janis Joplin performance footage in"Taking Woodstock." It's a situation akin to"Julie & Julia" without a kitchen, and the songs by Melanie, Richie Havens, Ravi Shankar and the Grateful Dead that make up the soundtrack place the movie in the '60s without particularly placing it at ground zero. In fact, the festival seems to be little more than a backdrop for the filmmakers' chief focus: The coming of age of Elliot Tiber, né Teichberg (Demetri Martin), from whose memoir"Taking Woodstock" was adapted. That's fine. Rather, that could have been fine. Often, the best way into the story of a significant event or epoch is through a bystander or a minor player. Consider the Cameron Crowe stand-in played by Patrick Fugit in"Almost Famous." But neither Elliot's story nor Mr. Martin's performance offers much in the way of drama or wattage."Taking Woodstock" mines all the cultural touchstones of the era and rounds up all the stereotypes as though checking off a to-do list. There's the televised shot of the moon landing; the traumatized Vietnam veteran; the acid trip on the VW bus (just one of several overextended, underwhelming sequences); the uptight characters freed of inhibitions after their unsuspecting consumption of hash brownies. And there's an avant-garde theater troupe that establishes its bona fides as hip and happening by stripping. One scene of baring all makes the point very nicely. Twice suggests a poverty of inventiveness on someone's part. Perhaps as a sign that the times they will soon be a-changin', big time, Liev Schreiber has a turn as a cross-dressing former marine whose example nudges Elliot toward clichéd self-acceptance.


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