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<Movie Details
Review
1 June 2009 by Elliott Noble

By all accounts – and there are far more accounts than there were attendees - Woodstock was an unforgettable experience. But, like any other nostalgia trip, to fully appreciate it you really had to be there.

Similarly, watching people getting stoned provides very little amusement for the sober.

And therein lies the problem with Ang Lee’s chilled-out and lovingly recreated paean to the hippy-trippy days of 1969. Taking Woodstock will leave the unstoned cold and won’t have anyone aching for those legendary ‘three days of peace and music’ that wasn’t there in the first place.   

It’s adapted by Lee’s regular scripter/producer James Schamus from the memoir by Elliot Tiber (nee Teichberg), played by the amiably bland Demetri Martin, a regular on Jon Stewart’s Today show.

While trying to prevent his avaricious mum (Staunton, at full kvetch) and world-weary dad (Goodman) from running their crummy, upstate New York motel into the ground, Elliot learns that the much vaunted Woodstock festival needs to find a home.

One call later and the Catskills are alive with cash-packing, tie-dyed, flower-powered freaks.

But while landowner Max (Levy) is happy to take their bread, the majority of his neighbours don’t dig their scene. Yet things only really get out of hand when Elliot gets toked-up and unwittingly promotes the festival as free.

Come the big weekend, the one-horse town White Lake is home to half a million cool cats.

To his credit, Lee only goes psychedelic once, preferring to capture the retro mood with the occasional split-screen, acres of pallid flesh and a thousand hairy armpits.

He also gets his Brokeback groove back for a while, but, like many of the other characters and issues, Elliot’s homosexuality is acknowledged but never makes it far up the film’s playbill.

With Liev Schrieber at ease as Vilma, the transvestite ex-marine in charge of security, and Goodman touching as the henpecked husband who finds a new lease of life, the film has heart.

But nothing is made of Hirsch’s Vietnam-fried soldier, his disapproving big brother (Watchmen's Jeffrey Dean Morgan) or the comic potential of the local avant garde theatre troupe.

Come to think of it, to say we’re dealing with the most famous festival ever, the soundtrack is pretty thin too, man. No Hendrix, no Creedence, scant Joplin, a coupla minor Doors numbers and not so much as a chord from The Who.

Not cool, man, not cool.