You have to hand it to director Ang Lee (Brokeback Mountain, Sense and Sensibility) he is one director who does not paint himself into a box. He'll try anything. Lee has done Jane Austen, a Marvel comic character and a homosexual love story between two cowboys. He will take any risk necessary when it comes to telling a story he is interested in. Sometimes it works like with "Sense and Sensibility" or "Brokeback Mountain" and sometimes it doesn't like with "Hulk" (though I thought that it was a good film. It just wasn't the type of film that fans wanted from this comic book character). "Taking Woodstock" can be added to his list of films that work.
Now you might be wondering why a director from Taiwan would be interested in telling a story about an American music festival that happened in 1969? Though the backdrop of the film is the famous Woodstock festival it really is a film about a family and the youth movement of the time. Very few scenes happen at the actual festival and there is even very little music from that era in the film. Now that might disappoint some I, for one, was interested in a true story about this very eccentric family.
Elliot Tiber (Demetri Martin – Analyze That, The Rocker) has sunk everything (money, time and effort) into his parents' run down motel in the Catskills. Now it seems like all his efforts are for naught as the bank is going to foreclose and he has to move back home as he has used all his money trying to help his parents. All this and it doesn't seem like his mother (Imelda Stanton – Vera Drake, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix) or father (Henry Goodman – The Damned United, Notting Hill) are in the least bit appreciative.
It suddenly dawns on Elliot how he is going to turn things around for his family and small town. Seeing that a neighbouring town has dumped hosting the Woodstock music festival Elliot acts quickly. And convinces the organizers to come to White Lake, New York to check out areas to hold the festival. They finally decide on the dairy farm of Max Yasgur (Eugene Levy – Serendipity, American Pie).
Though he saves his parents' motel and brings plenty of people to his sleepy town very few of the townspeople are happy. And then there are Elliot's parents….
The great messages in the film about tolerance and understanding make this more than the simple comedy that it seems to be on the surface. From the hippies to Elliot's homosexuality to Liev Shrieber's transvestite character they all are portrayed as just varieties of people who make this world a more colourful place to live in.
Speaking of colourful, what else can be said about Elliot's parents. Both actors do a splendid job with their characters, but special attention should be paid to Imelda Staunton as Elliot's crazy, tough-as-nails mother. Staunton is a character actor who completely disappears into her characters. You would never know that this is a British woman playing this Russian Jewess. Fantastic job!
Several serious issues are looked at very lightly in "Taking Woodstock" and it works. A son's relationship with his parents, homosexuality, being a transvestite, and small town poverty are all looked at, but surrounded with plenty of humorous situations and laughs. Despite all the humour we still are marked by the struggles the "youth movement" went through during this era.