Of all the upcoming summer movies, Taking Woodstock hits closest to home. Rather than taking place far out in space or way into the future, the film, about the creation of the famed music festival based on a book authored by Woodstock behind-the-scenester Elliot Tiber, takes place throughout — and was filmed in — the Hudson Valley. (Hooray for us!) Helming the production is Ang Lee, a resident of Larchmont in Westchester.
Since the movie feels so local, I’ve been following its progress closely. (The fact that it stars Demetri Martin, one of my fictional boyfriends, didn’t hurt, either.) I was excited for its debut at the Cannes International Film Festival… until I read the reviews. Ouch. Consensus seems to be that it’s innocuous and forgettable at best, or messy and clichéd at worst. Here’s a round-up of critical opinion:
“None of the characters in Ang Lee’s Taking Woodstock, adapted from the memoir by key organizer Elliot Tiber, is especially famous, but the story of the concert itself passed into legend long ago, which means that you’re just sitting there waiting for Max Yasgur to show up (hey, it’s Eugene Levy!), for the roads into Bethel to be jammed by barefoot hippies, for heavy rains to turn Yasgur’s field into a giant mud pit, and, inevitably, for Lee to employ the same split-screen effect that Scorsese and Schoonmaker used when editing Michael Wadleigh’s Woodstock. Check, check, check, check, and check please.” —The A.V. Club
“The business end of the Woodstock enterprise holds some interest, but the family dynamic is sitcom-broad, and contains a near-libelous caricature of immigrant Jews… The rest of the movie is a mess — Lee’s first total miscalculation, his first wholly inessential film.” —Time
“This backstory saga about the legendary Woodstock Music Festival of ’69 works in spots and spurts, but it too often feels ragged and unsure of itself, and doesn’t coalesce in a way that feels truly solid or self-knowing. At best it’s a decent try, an in-and-outer. Spit it out — it’s a letdown.” —Hollywood Elsewhere
“Considering the iconic event at its center, the most surprising aspect of Taking Woodstock lies with the decision to make it into a rather flat comedy. Even with the ever-versatile Ang Lee behind the camera, this messy historical fiction plays like a two hour Saturday Night Live sketch, and not a very good one, either.” —IndieWire
“Gentle, genial, and about as memorable as a mild reefer high.” —Variety
“Taking Woodstock is a loving recreation of a time that holds a special place in the hearts of millions of people all across the world. But, pitched at the hypothetical half-way point between The Graduate and Almost Famous, it’s almost too sweet for its own good, tasteful rather than transcendental, imbued with a nostalgia that Lee doesn’t convince us he truly feels.” —Telegraph
“Taking Woodstock is a sweet, meandering salute to the transformative power of three days of peace and music that took place in the summer of 1969. A defining moment in American cultural life is seen through the conventional prism of a young man’s coming of age and assertion of his individuality. The underlying themes of family tensions and personal epiphanies are quintessential Ang Lee territory, but this is a slender anecdote compared to the award-winning reach of more recent Lee ventures like Brokeback Mountain (2005) or Lust, Caution (2007).” —Screen Daily
Yikes. What do you think: Is it worth still giving it a shot?