Though Ang Lee began his filmmaking career telling stories about people who, like him, were Taiwanese or Taiwanese American, he gradually migrated to tales of an America that had come to be mythologized: the swinging '70s (The Ice Storm); the taciturn West (Brokeback Mountain). Taking Woodstock falls squarely within Lee's sweet spot - maybe not a look at the Woodstock that was, but a fairly charming look at the Woodstock we sort of wish it had been.
Lee and his screenwriter James Schamus adapt the memoir by Elliot Tiber, following young Elliot (Demetri Martin) as he tries to save his parents' crumbling Catskills motel by luring the proposed festival. The film's first half takes a mostly farcical course, effectively establishing White Lake, N.Y.'s pokey rhythms in contrast with the hippie happening to come. As a purely comedic take on culture clash, it's thoroughly satisfying.
Eventually, we also learn more about Elliot, who has sacrificed more than his cash, his career and even his sexual identity for his parents' sake. Elliot's growing need to live his own open life comes into focus through his experience - which makes it hard not to wish for a more dynamic, experienced actor in the role. Martin has a shaggy appeal, but he's not quite up to serious expressions of internal conflict. It's fortunate, then, that most of Taking Woodstock allows Elliot to be a surrogate for the audience's experience of those three muddy, insane days.
Lee may go a bit over the top in romanticizing Woodstock, but he recognizes how short-lived this dream vision was, ending with an oblique reference to the upcoming, tragedy-marred festival at Altamont. The blissed-out Woodstock vision may not have lasted long, but Taking Woodstock suggests that at least for a few days, it was real. And even if that point of view is a myth, it's an appealing one.