Elliot Tiber (Demetri Martin) returns home in the summer of 1969 to help his ailing parents (Henry Goodman and an almost unrecognisably staunch Imelda Staunton) save the El Monaco Resort – the family's run-down motel in the Catskills, New York. After hearing that "some hippie thing" will be cancelled unless they find a new venue for the concert, Eliot strikes up a deal with festival organiser Michael Lang (an unnervingly Willy Wonka-esque Jonathon Groff) that sees neighbouring farmland become the venue and the El Monaco the accommodation. Half a million hippies descend and the motel is inundated with a few more guests than expected.
Ang Lee offers a behind the scenes look at the people who make the festival. Personal journeys and transformations become a focus - from Eliot's coming out and psychedelic acid trip, to his father's radical transformation from a tired old man into a youthful dude who can take on the world. Even Eliot's overbearing mother gets there eventually with a little help from some hash brownies.
Theatrical poster for Taking Woodstock Copyright 2009 by Focus Features
A menagerie of quirky characters crop up throughout the film – from Emile Hirsch as a Vietnam Veteran suffering from PTSD, to Liev Schreiber as a cross-dressing security guard.
There's nothing too challenging or despondent about Taking Woodstock. The dreamy sun-bleached light and meandering pace gel nicely with the peaceful relaxed characters and sloth of a sweltering heatwave. Lee provides just the right level of offbeat humour to generate a cheerful chuckle.
But be warned: if you want a re-enacting of the festival itself, then this is not the film for you. Go watch Michael Wadleigh's 1970 documentary instead. But if you want a light-hearted film to warm your heart, then get your hands on a copy of Taking Woodstock.