Comedic take on one Woodstock insider's experience
with putting the festival together is a mix of slapstick and
“Taking Woodstock,” seen Aug. 26 in its early release in New York, is an entertaining, light take on the true story of Elliot Tiber, the proprietor of the upstate New York hotel who arranged for the legendary rock festival to come to his town after being run out of a few neighboring towns afraid of a “hippie invasion.” The movie falls a little short of being considered a four-star classic, but is a fun diversion nonetheless.
Dramatically, “Taking Woodstock” could have put a little more real conflict into Tiber’s struggles, as played by Demetri Martin, with trying to help his parents and figuring out his closeted homosexual life back in New York City. The filmmakers and studio deserve credit for not wiping this aspect out of the movie entirely, although the marketing omits that, pitching the movie straight down the line as
Woodstock 40th anniversary nostalgia.
Comedically, the movie sometimes turns to cartoonish slapstick in the form of Elliot’s parents, especially his mom, played by Imelda Staunton, who runs the dilapidated hotel aggressively, pinching pennies at every turn – and gets a lot of laughs in going after a couple of mobsters who attempt a shakedown when they see all the business the hotel is getting because of the festival.
Most other times, the movie’s humor comes out of little line readings here and there, and the characters’ reactions to each other. Liev Schreiber is a fun surprise as Vilma, the imposing transsexual who shows up to provide security, at the ready with a baseball bat to chase off townspeople who are angry with the Tibers for bringing the festival there.
The movie’s best scene, comedically or dramatically (maybe both), comes when Elliot’s dad, played by Henry Goodman as a weary, quiet man, tells him to go off and enjoy a little bit of the festival when it’s underway. It’s probably the one poignant, touching moment in a movie that could have had a couple more.