(out of 5)
We’ve all heard about the eternally famous, historically canonized concert(s) that took place in upstate New York in the summer of 1969, but did you know that it wasn’t actually an inevitability to begin with? Ang Lee dramatizes the events leading up to the now-legendary music festival that almost didn’t happen, centering around a young New York City artist (Demetri Martin) who decides to stay with his parents in their run-down, heavily mortgaged Catskills lodge. When he hears that a music festival meant to happen in Woodstock has been denied its permit by local authorities hoping to avoid being overrun with dirty hippies, Martin invites the organizers of the concert to his town of Bethel in the hopes of bringing some tourism and commerce to local businesses. Once the event is set up in a neighbour’s cow pasture, Martin realizes that he’s bitten off far more than he can chew: it isn’t just a crowd of people planning to attend, it’s a nation’s worth of free-loving, pot-smoking, music-loving teenagers looking to take part in what will eventually become a moment in history but will also subject his quiet hamlet to all manner of human pollution. This movie gets a lot of the details of this wonderful moment in American cultural and musical history right without really capturing its spirit. Martin exceeds in the lead, while Imelda Staunton as his mouthy mother steals the show, but neither they nor the excellent supporting performances can compensate for the fact that Lee’s film has no pulse or energy. There’s lots of great extras made up to look like the dirty and naked teens we’ve all seen in archival photographs (not to mention the extremely successful rock-documentary Woodstock), but there’s very little music on the soundtrack and this kills any possibility of the time-travel feeling you’re hoping to get out of it.
Directed by Ang Lee
Cinematography by Eric Gautier
Music by Danny Elfman
Production Design by David Gropman
Costume Design by Joseph G. Aulisi
Film Editing by Tim Squyres