Tuesday, August 25, 2009

I Would Stock up on tickets to Taking Woodstock

(that title's the best I could do. no time to spellcheck the names. rewatching BSG awaits)

Semi-spoiler alert. If you like going in blind, wait until after you see the movie to read this.

I've never been a huge fan of Ang Lee. I was on the fence about Brokeback Mountain, was bored by Ride with the Devil and let's not even get into The Hulk. So I was nervous going into Taking Woodstock. It's a time period I love and an event I was looking forward to seeing dramatized. I did not want it to suck.

And I do not exaggerate when I say not only did this movie NOT suck, but Taking Woodstock is hands down one of my favorites of 2009.

My fears were put to rest during the first scene, right after Imelda Staunton (in an academy worthy performance) speaks her first line. For the whole rest of the film, I found my face plastered with a giant smile. You wouldn't expect it, but this movie is HILARIOUS. It's whimsical, delightful, full of joy, and I laughed more throughout than I have at most flat out comedies this year.

While relatively light on plot, Woodstock is heavy on character, relationships, true human moments, sharp dialogue and brilliant performances. Even Demitri Martin, though clearly not as skilled as his co-stars, completely holds his own. Weak at certain times, strong at other times and mostly mediocre, Martin still manages to affect the audience. I wonder if his lack of acting ability somehow works to the film's benefit. He is extremely relatable & seems extra wide-eyed compared to the grounded pros acting up a storm around him.

Both Imelda Staunton & Henry Goodman deliver stellar performances and are the emotional backbone of Woodstock. I've never seen Staunton this hilarious and Goodman, who may go through the most development of any character, is now officially on my radar. The fantastic acting work extends to all of the supporting actors - Emile Hirsch (in what I personally think is his best performance. He's almost losing his eternal smugness! Yay!), Liev Schrieber, an almost unrecognizable Paul Dano and more.

One of my favorite aspects of Taking Woodstock is how immersed in the environment I felt. For two hours (An Ang Lee movie that's under two hours?!?!?!) I felt like I was there, in the sun, in the mud, in the open fields or stuck in the crowds marching for miles so as not to miss Dylan's possible (and ultimately non-existent) appearance. One shot that went on for a good five minutes, continuously, followed Elliot (Martin) as he treked through that crowd leading up to Max Yasgur's (Eugene Levy) farm. I actually felt like I was walking past people selling fruit (including two competing watermelon stands, one selling melons for 25 cents, one for 35 cents), performance art, protests, drug-selling, and more. Utilizing the same split screen technique as Woodstock, the documentary, also helped in this respect. We got to see 3-4 scenes happening all at once, the sound deliberately and delicately becoming louder during the dialogue that most needed our attention.

It also must be said that this movie featured the most accurate acid trip I have ever seen on film. From the way the colors pop & bleed to the way it makes you feel when someone else touches your arm to the overwhelming bliss it inspires in your heart (when you're having a good trip...disclaimer...don't do acid...), this trip sequence was right on. So much so, that it brought tears to my eyes. You will know why when you see it. Some things are just beautiful.

Which brings me to the overall point of this review. I haven't been inspired to write a review in a long time, but Taking Woodstock just did it for me. It was simple, it was sweet, and it was, to quote the last word of the movie, beautiful.

P.S. Warning: I do get the sense that this kind of movie is very get-it or don't-get-it. While it resonated with me, my friends and my family (people who identify with the hippie culture/way of thinking or were hippies themselves in the 60s), it may not inspire the same reaction in everyone. But I hope it does, cause the film was a wonderful experience.

Grade: A-

Possible Oscar Nominations: Supporting Actress, Supporting Actor, Art Direction, Costume Design, Best Adapted Screenplay


Caitlin said...

I totally agree with pretty much everything in this review. I was also really impressed with the depiction of the acid trip.

Castling said...

did you like sense and sensibility or the ice storm? those are also ang lee films!