“A sort of let’s-put-on-a-show summer-camp lark for director Ang Lee after the dramatic rigors of Brokeback Mountain and Lust, Caution, Taking Woodstock serves up intermittent pleasures but is too raggedy and laid-back for its own good, its images evaporating nearly as soon as they hit the screen,” declares Variety‘s Todd McCarthy.
“Given the film’s vast canvas and ambition to provide a kaleidoscopic portrait of a generational movement, the personal issues of Demetri Martin‘s Elliot Tiber — his feelings of responsibility to his immigrant parents, closeted gay status and general behavioral uptightness — seem unduly magnified in relation to everything else that’s going on.
“Elliot (who in real life was 34 at the time, older than the ‘generation’ in question) is a mild-mannered, unassertive guy without much electricity as a central screen presence. In the role’s conception and casting, Elliot is clearly patterned after Dustin Hoffman‘s Benjamin Braddock in The Graduate, but the effect isn’t remotely the same.
“Despite being temporally defined by the run-up to the fest and the weekend itself, the pic has a formless, unstructured feel, as its attention jumps from incident to incident in almost random fashion. Some distantly heard music serves notice that Woodstock itself has begun, but the stage is only ever glimpsed from atop a faraway hill. The musical performances are clearly not the subject of the film, but there’s no denying that their absence makes Taking Woodstock feel oddly incomplete; the table is set, but the meal never gets served.
“Other than the oddly extended attention devoted to the harsh irascibility of Elliot’s unbendingly greedy mother, pic is pleasant enough on a moment-to-moment basis, but the separate sketches never coalesce into anything like a full group portrait.”
Excerpts from my 5.15 Taking Woodstock review: “It too often feels ragged and unsure of itself…Elliot’s story comes through but [it seems analagous] to a story of the D-Day Invasion that focuses on Francois, a closeted young man in his 30s who doesn’t want to work at his parents’ Normandy bakery any more…Elliot was a man of 34 who’d been around a bit — Martin plays him like Dustin Hoffman’s Benjamin Braddock…no Woodstock concert footage is mixed into Lee’s movie, and [while] I kept telling myself that it’s Eliot’s story, not Woodstock II, I wanted glimpses of the real thing…the story is weakened, in my book, by Imelda Staunton‘s strident and braying portrayal of Tiber’s mother-from-hell…[the film] doesn’t coalesce in a way that feels truly solid or self-knowing.”