Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Movie Log: Taking Woodstock

Taking Woodstock is a deeply amiable movie, a loving depiction of the best sides of the spirit of the '60s that suggests that, indeed, all you need is love.

It ambles loosely through the summer of '69, with a focus on Demetri Martin's Elliot, the son of a motel-owning couple of Eastern European Jews (Henry Goodman as Jake, who works and rarely talks, and Imelda Staunton as an only slightly modulated Jewish-mother stereotype). Elliot is the head of the Bethel Chamber of Commerce, and already has a permit for a summer music and arts festival, so he realizes -- when the already-planned Woodstock festival gets kicked out of its first venue, a few towns away -- that he can step in and bring all that business to his town.

It all goes on very predictably from there -- the townspeople are opposed, there's a damaged local 'Nam vet, we meet Eugene Levy as a local farmer named Max with a field to rent, Elliot gets caught up in the planning for the show, and then the hippies descend en masse for the promised three days of peace and music. But it's endlessly good-natured, capturing the essential spirit of the cultural moment, when it seemed as if peace and love would win out against all odds.

On the other hand, you have to already know what Woodstock was and what it meant -- and have some sense of the history of the late '60s, the war and the protests -- to really understand Taking Woodstock; this isn't a movie that explains itself. It would make a fine bottom half of a double-bill with the old Woodstock documentary, though -- that might feel as long as a day at the concert back in '69, but would, at least, have far less mud.

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