WOOD­STOCK DONE DULL

> TAKE ON THE ‘WORLD-CHANG­ING’ MU­SIC FEST GOES PER­SONAL, FLAT

The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - Stage - By John Bei­fuss / bei­fuss@com­mer­cialap­peal.com

IF YOU’VE EVER LAMENTED not be­ing present (or alive) in 1969 for the “Aquar­ian Ex­po­si­tion” that Rolling Stone mag­a­zine re­cently la­beled “the great­est rock fes­ti­val ever and the decade’s most fa­mous and suc­cess­ful ex­per­i­ment in peace and com­mu­nity,” “Tak­ing Wood­stock” will ease your sor­row.

The new film from ver­sa­tile di­rec­tor Ang Lee (“Broke­back Moun­tain,” “Crouch­ing Tiger, Hid­den Dragon,” “Sense and Sen­si­bil­ity”) makes the Wood­stock cel­e­bra­tion seem about as thrilling as trudg­ing be­tween the Bud­weiser and Cel­lu­lar South stages dur­ing the Beale Street Mu­sic Fes­ti­val. (As any­one who’s been to Tom Lee Park in May knows, you don’t have to go to the Catskills to slide in the mud.) Even drop­ping acid in a VW bug with Paul Dano — the weirdo boy evan­ge­list from “There Will Be Blood” — seems no more trans­for­ma­tional than hav­ing one too many at the Lamp­lighter.

Per­haps this crit­i­cism is un­fair. “Tak­ing Wood­stock” isn’t about the gath­er­ing it­self — al­ready defini­tively chron­i­cled in the Os­car-winning 1970 doc­u­men­tary, “Wood­stock” — but about the prepa­ra­tion, the buildup and, specif­i­cally, the role played dur­ing the fes­ti­val by the com­i­cally ec­cen­tric (ac­cord­ing to the film) res­i­dents of up­state New York, who had no clue they were open­ing their farms and vil­lages to a hip­pie army “half a mil­lion strong,” to quote the Joni Mitchell song that for­ever ro­man­ti­cized the event (“We are star­dust/ We are golden”).

Adapted by screen­writer James Schamus from El­liott Tiber’s 2007 au­to­bi­og­ra­phy, “Tak­ing Wood­stock: A True Story of a Riot, a Con­cert and a Life,” the movie’s fo­cus is on a clean-cut and shy young painter named El­liott (Demetri Martin), whose pos­ses­sion of a mu­sic fes­ti­val per­mit en­ables the or­ga­niz­ers of the “Wood­stock Mu­sic & Art Fair” to move their “3 Days of Peace & Mu­sic” to Bethel, N.Y., af­ter the city fathers in Wood­stock, N.Y., re­ject the hip­pie hoe­down.

El­liott’s stri­dent pogrom-es­capee mother (a grue­some Imelda Staunton) and brow­beaten schlemiel fa­ther (Henry Good­man) op­er­ate a flea pit mo­tel that be­comes fes­ti­val head­quar­ters. Neigh­bors ob­ject to the in­flux of “meshuga hairy bare­foot (peo­ple)” and other odd­balls (Liev Schreiber ap­pears as a burly drag queen who straps a pis­tol to his in­ner thigh), but El­liott is in­spired to not only es­cape his par­ents but to em­brace his sex­u­al­ity. (Our first real clue: He prefers Judy Gar­land to Jimi Hen­drix.)

Re­leased 40 years to the week af­ter the al­legedly seis­mic event, “Tak­ing Wood­stock” might have worked as an an­tic com­edy or even a pre­ten­tious we-changed-the-world epic of gen­er­a­tional brag­gado­cio. (The freaked-out Viet­nam vet­eran played by Emile Hirsch could have fit into ei­ther con­text.) In­stead, Lee and Schamus use Wood­stock as wall­pa­per for a hack­neyed story of per­sonal growth and rein­ven­tion.

The re­sult may be Lee’s first dull film. It’s cer­tainly his most pre­dictable: Yes, we hear Blind Faith’s “Can’t Find My Way Home” as the spent fes­ti­val­go­ers make their ex­o­dus from Max Yas­gur’s farm; and, yes, an end-of-the -movie con­ver­sa­tion in­cludes an ironic ref­er­ence to the up­com­ing rock fest at Altamont.

Ken Re­gan/Fo­cus Fea­tures

Kelli Gar­ner (from left), Demetri Martin and Paul Dano are three young peo­ple com­ing of age in the Age of Aquarius at Wood­stock in 1969.

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