Thursday, 29 October 2009

Review: Taking Woodstock

Year: 2009
Director: Ang Lee
Screenplay: James Schamus
Starring: Demetri Martin, Imelda Staunton, Henry Goodman, Liev Schreiber

Plot Synopsis is here

It's interesting to see that both taking woodstock and a serious man are about good natured protagonists who are beginning to buckle under the amount of pressure that is heaped upon them. However while The Coens have a sympathetic yet unfortunate character, a strong back catalogue of themes and a genuinely intriguing story to fall back on. Woodstock has nothing but the fading glory of the festival to prop itself up....oh wait none of the festival is seen.

From the off the path, of Taking Woodstock is a gentle and at first an amusing one. As the characters get introduced, it's clear to see that it wishes to be a film that doesn't want to rock the boat to much. Considering the controversies of lee's recent entries (Lust, Caution and Brokeback Mountain), this is almost a complete turn around and one that many could find quite pleasing. The problem is with a film subject as well documented and volatile as this one, Lee does nothing to fully engage myself as a viewer. The drama is bland, with little or no strong conflict to speak of. In fact, compared to the much maligned Hulk movie (also by Lee) it's quite surprising that Hulk wins out in the dramatic stakes.

When the idea of actually getting the characters to butt heads actually rears it's head, you realize the screenplays lack of character background hampered it yonks ago when you were laughing at the one dimensional money hungry Russian Jewish mother character that was thrown in your face. In a supposed coming of age film like this, sometimes humor can only take you so far, and by the time Demetri Martin's lead character of Elliot has missed a day of the festival due to an acid trip, you've discovered that the film is not really interested in his plight. Sprinklings of what the film could be appear in places but lacks the verve and passion that usually comes with Lee's films.

The films sense of place is also patchy, the idea of having a film about Woodstock without showing any of it is a novel and brave idea. But compare this to Almost Famous and you realise how lost in time the film really is. Crowe's crowd pleaser also doesn't have famous names playing either, but Crowe's story feels so much closer to the era than James Schamus screenplay.

Some Performances are amusing in the film (Imelda Staunton, Henry Goodman and Liev Schreiber being standouts) but these are hampered by an uneven lead who seems overwhelmed by the films (perceived) scope and the simply brutal Emile Hirsch, whose ott performance is nabbed from every nam veteran part ever known.

Considered to be a coming of age tale, this doesn't come close as we should connect with the trails and tribulations of character as the arc raises and reaches a climax. But everything is held at a distance while Martin's Elliot drifts out of one of the most important moments of his generation. Also considering Lee's Brokeback Mountain, the films homosexual subtext is badly handled and almost non-existent, as if Lee decided that "going gay" again would be a bad idea. It wouldn't if it were dealt as tenderly as Lee's neo-western.

Taking Woodstock pitters out of stream by the last act and by the time the film clumsily inserts some tame drama it's too late. The characters haven't been sympathetic enough for us to care and the films real story as been lost amid the Woodstock background. So much is put upon the planning of the event but nothing on why you should care about the players positions.

A rear miss from a more than capable director, it's easy to see why Lee does some of the things he does and it's good to see something not as forced as say Benjamin Button, with this said, more assertiveness was needed to make the drama interesting while I wouldn't minded a more focused screenplay. Cest la vie.

Hear me talk about this movie at Geekplanetonline