AWFJ Women On Film – “Taking Woodstock” – Susan Granger reviews

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Much of our enjoyment of a movie is based on expectations – and this title is misleading. The fabled music festival with Jimi, Janis and Arlo is simply the historical background for Ang Lee’s low-key, lightweight, personal story about Elliot Tiber (Demetri Martin) a young, semi-closeted gay painter/interior designer in New York’s Greenwich Village who spends his weekends in the Catskills trying to help his stereotypical Russian Jewish immigrant parents, Jake and Sonia Teichberg (Henry Goodman, Imelda Staunton), keep their run-down El Monaco Motel from going bankrupt.

As president of the Bethel Chamber of Commerce, Elliot offers the use of El Monaco as a ramshackle base camp to the organizers and staff of Woodstock Ventures after the company loses its permit for an arts festival in nearby Wallkill. He also brokers a deal between Michael Lang (Jonathan Groff), one of the festival’s producer/organizers, and Max Yasgur (Eugene Levy), who owns a 600-acre dairy farm down the road in White Lake (Yes, the festival actually took place in White Lake, not Woodstock.) As the inevitable chaos climaxes, Elliot drops acid with an Age of Aquarius couple in a van (Kelli Garner, Paul Dano), amid the hippies-in-the-mud and graphic nudity.

Riffing on Elliot Tiber memoir, “Taking Woodstock: A True Story of a Riot, a Concert and A Life,” written with Tom Monte, James Schamus’s screenplay rambles episodically; its sprawling fragmentation is emphasized by Ang Lee’s kaleidoscopic use of multiple cameras and a split-screen. Stand-up comedian Demetri Martin doesn’t measure up to the dramatic demands of the leading role that’s thrust upon him and Emile Hirsch’s bitter, brain-fried Vietnam vet is over-the-top, but Liev Schreiber is memorable as a macho, transsexual ex-Marine security guard. And you can glimpse Meryl Streep’s daughter, Mamie Gummer, looking lovely as Tisha, Jonathan Groff’s supposed girl-friend.

On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Taking Woodstock” is an occasionally amusing yet shallow 6. If you really want to tune in and turn on to the authentic musical flavor of 40 years ago, rent Michael Wadleigh’s Oscar-winning 1970 concert documentary “Woodstock.”

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Susan Granger

Susan Granger

Susan Granger is a product of Hollywood. Her natural father, S. Sylvan Simon, was a director and producer at R.K.O., M.G.M. and Columbia Pictures; her adoptive father, Armand Deutsch, produced movies at M.G.M. As a child, Susan appeared in movies with Abbott & Costello, Red Skelton, Lucille Ball, Margaret O'Brien and Lassie. She attended Mills College in California, studying journalism with Pierre Salinger, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, Phi Beta Kappa, with highest honors in journalism. During her adult life, Susan has been on radio and television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic. Her newspaper reviews have been syndicated around the world, and she has appeared on American Movie Classics cable television. In addition, her celebrity interviews and articles have been published in REDBOOK, PLAYBOY, FAMILY CIRCLE, COSMOPOLITAN, WORKING WOMAN and THE NEW YORK TIMES, as well as in PARIS MATCH, ELLE, HELLO, CARIBBEAN WORLD, ISLAND LIFE, MACO DESTINATIONS, NEWS LIMITED NEWSPAPERS (Australia), UK DAILY MAIL, UK SUNDAY MIRROR, DS (France), LA REPUBBLICA (Italy), BUNTE (Germany), VIP TRAVELLER (Krisworld) and many other international publications through SSG Syndicate. Susan also lectures on the "Magic and Mythology of Hollywood" and "Don't Take It Personally: Conquering Criticism and other Survival Skills," originally published on tape by Dove Audio.