Whenever I watch any kind of story that's set in the sixties, I'm already cringing at the beginning because I've been disappointed and disgusted too many times over the inability or unwillingness to FAITHFULLY recreate the LOOK and the FEEL of the era. Note to aspiring directors: MOST YOUNG PEOPLE IN THE LATE SIXTIES DID NOT HAVE SHORT HAIR! Even straight folks (meaning non-freaks, in this context) grew it below their ears. If you want proof, check out the hair styles on some of those Lawrence Welk TV shows from that period (admittedly kind of funny to look at today).
Anyway, the first thing that made me SMILE about Taking Woodstock is that its world is populated by oodles of AUTHENTIC looking hippie types. My mind set at ease, I knew that academy award winning director Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain) was going to do his best to do justice to the peace and love generation.
Based on the memoirs of Elliot Tiber--who was instrumental in bringing the Woodstock festival to fruition--Taking Woodstock is a coming of age story that follows young Elliot Teichberg,
(Demetri Martin) president of the Bethel, New York chamber of commerce--the guy who issues the permit to allow the festival to go forward after it's been banned in Wallkill due to "hippie phobia."
Elliot helps his parents run the dilapidated El Monaco Motel, where they charge extra for bath towels. Elliot"s mom, Sonia, (Imelda Staunton) is a hyper-stereotypical Jewish mother--and Staunton was born for this role. She's totally meshuggah.
Elliot, who tries to promote the area with his own modest local talent concerts, contacts Michael Lang, (Jonathon Groff) promoter of the Woodstock festival, and the rest is history. Groff has obviously studied Michael Lang with a keen eye--and those who've seen the Woodstock documentary (and who hasn't?) will find the resemblance (especially the hair) to be quite remarkable.
Eugene Levy (in a role that doesn't call upon his comic abilities) plays Max Yasgur, the local dairy farmer who provides the site for the momentous event.
Don't go to Taking Woodstock expecting to see any clips of Hendrix or Joplin on stage--you can immerse yourself in that by revisiting the documentary. This film is the personal story of Elliot's coming out of the closet and coming into his own--but still with enough naked hippies, pot smoking, mud sliding, and music of the era to get the job done ("Wooden Ships" by Crosby, Still, and Nash is such a GREAT song!) I especially liked the scene where Elliot joins a young couple in their tent and drops acid with them. It's a dreamy, colors melting, mind-blowing sequence that drips with authenticity.
Had Taking Woodstock been a made for TV movie (and God, I hope we NEVER have one of those) it would have ended with some moralistic anti-this or anti-that message; instead, the movie ends appropriately with a foreshadowing of the days to come following an era that occupied a shining, but all too brief moment upon the world stage.