Movies about historical events might evoke the look of a period in time, but only a select few are able to nail down how people felt during that era. But director Ang Lee (BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN) accomplishes just that by portraying the mammoth 1969 rock concert as a moment when America’s idealistic innocence was briefly resurrected for “three days of peace and music.” Such beliefs are epitomized in a scene in which dairy farmer Max Yasgur (Eugene Levy), on whose land the spectacle was held, becomes amused at enterprising locals “actually charging a dollar for a bottle of water.” Despite the enormity of Woodstock, James Schamus’ screenplay centers on the personal, true story of the ambitious young Chamber of Commerce leader (Demetri Martin) who put down a dollar for a music festival permit with the hopes of saving his parents’ (Henry Goodman, Imelda Statunton) crappy motel where guests were routinely charged a buck for towels. Even though there are split-screen montages that are obvious homages to the outstanding 1970 documentary (See critic’s note), the film focuses more on the effect of the concert in the characters’ lives than it does on the music, which is always heard in the background. Performance wise, Comedy Central’s Martin hits all the right notes as his character struggles to breathe life into a provincial small town while coming to grips with his own homosexuality. He’s matched with memorable supporting help from Goodman (PRIVATE PARTS), Emile Hirsch (MILK) as a whacked-out Vietnam vet and the amazing Imelda Staunton (VERA DRAKE) who dominates every scene she’s in. The acting is just one of several strengths of this enjoyable movie that depicts the vast scope of the concert while personalizing it by showing how it positively impacted a small community left for dead.
CRITIC’S NOTE: To get a musical perspective of “the biggest concert … ever,” I strongly recommend director Michael Wadleigh’s Academy Award-winning documentary WOODSTOCK (1970). With over three-and-a-half hours of performance footage, it’s perfect for DVD viewing. One of its editors was filmmaker Martin Scorsese (THE DEPARTED, TAXI DRIVER) and there are clips from artists like Janis Joplin, Jemi Hendrix, Santana and The Who.