After the hardcore sex-and-politics of Lust, Caution, Ang Lee finds peace and love with this amiable comedy about how the world’s most iconic music festival came to pass. The film is based on a true story: stand-up comedian turned actor Demetri Martin plays Elliot, a failed interior designer forced to help run his Jewish parents’ (including a top-form Imelda Staunton) beat-up Catskills motel. Once there he spies an once-in-a-lifetime business opportunity when he hears the organisers of a hippie music festival have had their permit revoked in a neighbouring town.
With Woodstock the backdrop to Elliot’s own concerns – in particular how he comes out to his parents – some viewers may be disappointed that Lee makes no real attempt to recreate the actual stage (at best it’s glimpsed from a distance). Yet it’s unfair to say you don’t get a feel for the festival – from the remarkable Le Weekend-inspired scene in which a flower-power cop gives Elliot a ride through a huge queue of festival-goers to the climactic acid sequence, where he drops a tab with a couple in a VW van.
If the film itself is somewhat rambling, then perhaps that’s because going to a festival the size of Woodstock is always going to throw up random encounters – whether it be with Liev Schreiber’s ex-Marine cross-dresser or Emile Hirsch’s bitter Vietnam veteran. Certainly compared to Lee’s last foray into this territory – his 1970s-set The Ice Storm – Taking Woodstock is a much milder joint. But with the late reference to Altamont, Lee ensures we don’t forget that the dark clouds were about to gather over the peace movement.
General release from Fri 13 Nov.