I’ve begun to think that Ang Lee is just not that great at making movies. His best work is very good, but his worst is sloppy, sappy and painfully trite. Taking Woodstock exhibits a little of both of Lee’s extremes, but the bad stuff outweighs the good and drags down what is a gorgeously shot and ambitious project to the level of a Lifetime made-for-TV family drama. The story follows the Teichberg family, who own a small hotel near Woodstock, N.Y. In a Capra-cornish setup, the bank is about to foreclose on their business when a white knight rides in—in the form of the Woodstock Music Festival. Suddenly awash in cash and hippies, the dysfunctional family learns about love and togetherness and stock sequences that could have been dragged out of a half-dozen family dramas. Luckily, there are a couple of great performances and good ideas to keep Taking Woodstock from being awful. Liev Schreiber is powerful as a transvestite security guard, and Jonathan Groff has an otherworldy calm as music promoter Michael Lang. Lee also does a great job of filming an acid sequence: Instead of the silly special effects that usually accompany drug scenes, he captures the undulations, trails and twirls of an experience with psychedelics. Scenes of thousands of people rippling in the night while the music plays are hypnotic and effective. If Lee had left out the Lifetime-TV family stuff, this might have been the definitive Woodstock film.
Director: Ang Lee
Producer: James Schamus, Ang Lee, Celia Costas and Michael Hausman
Cast: Demetri Martin, Imelda Staunton, Emile Hirsch, Liev Schreiber, Eugene Levy, Jonathan Groff, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Henry Goodman, Dan Fogler, Paul Dano, Mamie Gummer, Kelli Garner and Skylar Astin