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Video Reviews

THIS REVIEW DEALS WITH GRAPHIC SEXUAL CONTENT AND IS NOT APPROPRIATE FOR CHILDREN.

MPAA Rating
Credits
Genre
Comedy, Drama
Cast
Demetri Martin as Elliot Teichberg; Imelda Staunton as Sonia Teichberg; Eugene Levy as Max Yasgur, Emile Hirsch as Billy; Liev Schreiber as Vilma
Director
Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain, The Hulk, Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, Sense and Sensibility)
Distributor
Focus Features
In Theaters
August 26, 2009
On Video
December 15, 2009
Reviewer
Bob Hoose
Taking Woodstock

Taking Woodstock

Elliot Teichberg's a nice guy.

He's also a buttoned-down twentysomething who temporarily puts his dreams of being an artist/designer aside to help his parents maintain their failing, flyblown motel. He works hard. And everybody in town loves him.

Elliot Teichberg's completely miserable.

While struggling to squeak out the mortgage money for his family's business, he's also wrestling with how to admit his hidden homosexual yearnings to his Russian immigrant parents. And that's not even mentioning the avant-garde theater troupe that just happens to be camping out and starving in his barn.

Then the solution to all his problems suddenly lifts its psychedelic head. A company called Woodstock Ventures has lost its license to stage a rock festival in a nearby city. And Elliot figures that this might be just the thing to revitalize local commerce and potentially get his parents out of debt. Why, the drama group could even perform between bands.

One life-changing phone call later and the whole colorful production is set to go on a neighbor's farm. The concert promoters and shaggy-haired music lovers see the arrangement as a match made in heaven. But the locals start seeing fire and brimstone once hundreds of thousands of strung-out hippies start running naked through the woods.

Positive Elements

It appears that Elliot's parents are truly miserable together. But when he asks his dad, "How have you lived with her for more than 40 years?" the answer is, "I love her." Elliot cares for these rough-edged folk, despite the fact that they both seem so indifferent, if not outright antagonistic, toward him. He sticks by them to help, even though his estranged older sister encourages him to bail like she did.

Elliot also wants to help his small struggling town. He takes on the job of president of its Chamber of Commerce and earnestly seeks out ideas to bring in new business.

Elliot's dad finally does thank him for the positive things he's done and encourages him to go and live a fruitful life.

Spiritual Content

A Hindu swami is seen teaching devotees. A group of Hare Krishnas make an appearance. And several nuns are seen walking to the concert.

During a dramatic performance, an actor recites the line, "Christ died for you, but not for me!"

Sexual Content

Representing the free-sprit attitude of the late '60s and early '70s, people get naked on numerous occasions. And the camera's no more shy than they are. One skinny-dipping scene features a large group of adults and children splashing about while displaying full-frontal nudity. The drama troupe members also strip off their clothes, revealing everything (back and front, male and female) on several occasions (once while performing for townsfolk).

Throughout the film, groups and pairs of hirsute concertgoers are seen running naked in the muddy fields or nearby woods. Some of them are after only one thing; and an archetypal lovemaking couple gets chased out from behind a violently shaking bush.

Elliot is kissed amorously by a young woman on the local bar dance floor. He's taken aback by this. Then a guy steps forward and kisses him open-mouthed—and Elliot grabs the guy's head to passionately kiss him back. (The surrounding crowd cheers them on.) Elliot later wakes up in bed with the man.

A cross-dressing bodyguard named Vilma lifts his skirt to reveal a pistol strapped to his thigh. Then he lifts it higher to display his tight panties.

A male and female couple caress and rub themselves all over Elliot's body as the three share an acid trip. Elliot ends up shirtless and the woman is naked under the slipping coverage of a light blanket.

Violent Content

With the sudden influx of cash from Woodstock Ventures and the scores of hippy renters, a couple of thugs show up looking for protection money. Elliot's dad hits one with a baseball bat and his mom kicks the other in the groin before leaping on his back. The men try to escape in their car and the Teichberg's keep swinging, ripping a mirror off the vehicle in the process.

A policeman says he came to the Woodstock event because he was hoping to "club some hippies." But once he gets there his attitude changes: "Maybe I'm getting high on the fumes," he says. With revenge in mind and a pot of hot tar in hand, Vilma and Elliot's dad chase after vandals.

Crude or Profane Language

Close to 50 f-words. A half-dozen s-words. Jesus' and God's names are abused. And Elliot's mom blurts out offensive Yiddish slang.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Although beer and alcohol flow freely in the two or three bar scenes, marijuana and LSD are the onscreen drugs of choice. Characters regularly smoke pot in public without repercussion. In fact, a police officer rolls by on his motorcycle while a guy is hawking his various blends of weed, and the cop doesn't bat an eye. Elliot puffs on a joint to "prepare himself" before facing reporters.

Regular references to people "dropping" LSD are made, as well. When Elliot takes acid with a couple that he runs into, the movie's special effects make the resulting hallucinations appear colorful and appealing. Elliot reports that the "trip" was "great."

Everyone seems to agree that alternately numbing and enhancing your mental perception is a plus. After three days of no sleep and copious amounts of alcohol, Elliot's dad appears to be a happier, more expressive person. When Vilma gives hash brownies to Elliot's parents they both laugh and dance together. Elliot appears shocked that the two are actually enjoying themselves. And he gently covers them when they pass out together.

People smoke cigarettes and cigars.

Other Negative Elements

When the townsfolk get angry at Elliot and his family, swastika and anti-Jewish graffiti appear. People speak of running "you Jews" out of town. Elliot's mother compares a debt-collecting bank clerk to a Nazi.

In the midst of the three-day festival, social protests involve antiwar tirades, feminists burning their bras and young men burning their draft cards.

After Elliot's dad pours bleach into the pool to kill germs, people drink the water.

Conclusion

I was raised just a stone's throw away from White Lake, N.Y., where the advertised "3 Days of Peace and Music" took place. And I distinctly remember standing around in my wide-striped bellbottoms and hemp pullover, watching the black-and-white TV images of Woodstock and puzzling over what was really going on during that rainy weekend in '69.

The roads were impassible. The governor declared a disaster. And kids huddled, drenched, under blankets in muddy cow fields while listening to the open-air rock concert. Sure, there was an aspect of intrigue, but it just seemed kind of crazy to me. I didn't know exactly how crazy, though, until the next year when the filmed documentary of the event came out and we really got a good look at the wild happenings that had gone on just a few counties over.

That's why I can legitimately say that director Ang Lee's cinematic vision of the small farmland community around the event rings incredibly true. He really nails what it must have been like to see this musical juggernaut blow into town like a stoned-out circus from some non-existential netherworld.

But that peripheral realism is about all Taking Woodstock has going for it.

This offbeat and unfunny comedy stumbles around the outside edges of the iconic incident it references. Forget about hearing a killer Hendrix-enhanced soundtrack, Taking Woodstock could just as easily revolve around a 1974 circus act or a 1965 opera, because the real story here is Elliot's journey toward homosexuality.

Its strongest statement seems to be that you must free yourself from the mundane "normal" things of life—like marriage and/or responsibility to family. They can be such buzz-killers, after all. In fact, it cackles, if you ever want to see your parents really happy, you need to get them blitzed on at least four hashish brownies.

Or maybe that's all too complicated and expositional. Maybe the message is simply this: Taking an acid trip is incredibly cool!

Near the end, Elliot's friend Michael—who embodies an attitude of peace and blissful tranquility—looks out over a garbage-strewn slope that used to hold throngs of muddy, naked bodies, and says, "It's beautiful." He's talking, of course, about a utopian dream of unified youth, who, through a transformational experience are somehow equipped to go out and change their world for the better.

We're supposed to link that social activist's ideal to the drug and sex experiences that we've seen Elliot go through. But the problem is we haven't seen anything beautiful. We've just seen the specter of mind-addling addiction and heart-destroying licentiousness. Put more commonly, we've seen people frying their brains while running around dirty and naked, rutting in the bushes.

Sometimes a muddy hillside covered in trash ... is just that.

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