Run time: 120 mins
In Theaters: Friday 28th August 2009
Box Office USA: $7.4M
Distributed by: Focus Features
Production compaines: Focus Features
Contactmusic.com: 3 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 47%
Fresh: 85 Rotten: 94
IMDB: 6.7 / 10
Director: Ang Lee
Screenwriter: James Schamus
Starring: Emile Hirsch as Billy, Demetri Martin as Elliot Teichberg, Henry Goodman as Jake Teichberg, Edward Hibbert as British Gentleman, Imelda Staunton as Sonia Teichberg, Paul Dano as VW Guy, Kelli Garner as VW Girl, Kevin Chamberlin as Jackson Spiers, Liev Schreiber as Wilma, Lee Wong as George the Doorman, Anthoula Katsimatides as Esther, Clark Middleton as Frank, Bette Henritze as Annie, Sondra James as Margaret, Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Dan, Christina Kirk as Carol, Jonathan Groff as Michael Lang, Skylar Astin as John Roberts
Elliot (Martin) leaves New York City to go upstate to help his stubborn parents (Staunton and Goodman) keep their hotel in business. Then he hears that a friend from the city, Michael (Groff), is having trouble getting a permit for his music festival. Elliot happens to already have one in hand, so puts Michael in contact with a local farmer (Levy). And as he helps Michael make the arrangements, he never grasps quite how massive this event is going to be. But then no one did.
Lee is a superb director, and finds something resonant in every scene, drawing out telling details in relationships and situations while letting the actors create characters that continually surprise us, even though the size of the ensemble makes it difficult to get too far from stereotypes. In this sense, Staunton gets the least satisfying role as the narrow-minded shrew, while Martin is stuck with the nice-but-dull guy at the centre of the storm discovering who he really is and where he belongs.
Along the way, other actors get a chance to shine, including Hirsch as a shell-shocked friend just back from Vietnam, Gummer as Michael's free-thinking sidekick, Schreiber as a cross-dressing ex-Marine, and Dano and Garner as hippies who take Elliot on a mind-bending trip in their VW bus. The script is packed with snappy one-liners and witty characters, and it also has a nice structure that builds slowly to the enormous event. Although the pace is somewhat draggy and unfocussed.
Mixing real footage with some genuinely eye-popping recreations, Lee recreates both the groovy vibe and the sense that hundreds of thousands of people are swarming onto these fields. But the mass spectacle and the small story of Elliot's personal journey are at odds with each other, and neither one is very rewarding as a result. We wish we could feel the breakthrough Elliot experiences. But even more, we wish we could watch the performers on the stage.
But then we have Michael Wadleigh's seminal 1970 doc for that.