Interestingly enough, when I finished watching this film I was thinking of dropping it from 4 stars, which is what I felt would be its rating almost till the end, to 3 stars, given the diluted ending. But by the time I sat down to write this review, the ending grew on me and felt appropriate, even if initially somewhat disappointing. So 4 stars it is.
I feel many of those who critiqued this film badly, had unanswered expectations – that this film will revive the Woodstock experience for them (even if they’ve never been there). But it seems to me that this film, directed by the capable Ang Lee, very consciously chosen to focus on anything but the center stage. And even when the center stage is shown from afar, it is through the mist of a drug illusion, a choice I believe Lee made consciously.
Woodstock, the swan song of a generation that would shortly after turn into anything but hippies, will remain a symbol. And the film, much like the real event, has no fireworks at the end, just a fading away. Yet the film is about transformation. And once it happens, Lee underplays it which gives it a somewhat dissatisfaction ending, appropriate in retrospective.
The casting is terrific. The plot mostly works until 2/3 into the movie, when it loses steam. One sore point is the mother’s character, a holocaust survivor whose acts are somewhat overplayed. This can be wrongly read by many of the viewers, a generation who doesn’t know that such people did really exist and therefore will either take it as a joke or as Jewish stereotype, a message I do not think was the filmmakers intention. Yet the film does capture the era by using colorful characters, music, atmosphere and even timely TV news reports, and so long as you know what you are stepping into, is a worthy journey in time which may also reflect on current events (“$1 for a bottle of water?!”).