This film could have been titled “There Will Be Beef.”
Luckily I saw “Woodstock” again in April, so it was fresh in my mind while watching “Taking Woodstock,” Ang Lee’s entertaining film about the kid who made it all possible — in Woodstock, anyway. This is Elliot Teichberg, a young interior designer who leaves a New York career to return home to upstate New York and help his parents bail out their failing, shabby motel.
He’s already held outdoor “music festivals” at the motel, which have involved people sitting on the grass and listening to him play records. Now he learns a nearby town has refused a permit to the organizers of a proposed August 1969 rock concert. As the head of the tiny Bethel Chamber of Commerce, near Woodstock, he calls them and offers a permit. And history is made. What if Woodstock had been named after the town that turned it down, Wallkill?
Lee’s movie is so deliberately backstage that we never see any of the concert’s performances, although we hear them sometimes in the background. All is seen through the eyes of Elliot, who ignores local fears of a hippie riot and persuades local dairy farmer Max Yasgur (Eugene Levy) to make his acres available as the venue. Max and other people in the film, such as the Port-O-San man and a local couple with one son at Woodstock and another in Vietnam, are familiar from the “Woodstock” documentary.
But Lee and writer James Schamus aren’t making a historical pastiche. This is a comedy with some sweet interludes and others that are cheerfully over the top, such as a nude theatrical troupe living in Elliot’s barn, and Vilma, his volunteer head of motel security, a transvestite ex-Marine played by Liev Schreiber. How does Schreiber, looking just as he usually does except for a blond wig and a dress, play a transvestite? Completely straight. It works.