Tuesday, September 01, 2009

It's a Comfort to Know...

...that the only person more captivated by Jonathan Groff and his perfect face and his magnetic presence and his calming demeanor and did I mention the face is Ang Lee. Because not only did my man Ang pepper Taking Woodstock with a dozen or more loving, lingering closeups on Jonathan's perfect mug, but he also frames his character, Michael Lang, as this kind of boyish pied piper who leans in close and gets you to agree to anything because he smells wonderful. (And by the way, I've seen Michael Lang interviewed -- this "hypnotizing sex elf" incarnation of him belongs to Lee and Groff almost entirely.) It was just another moment where I was reminded that Ang Lee and I are in this together.

Jonathan Groff isn't the only area where Ang and I are on the same page. I pretty much was on board with him the whole way through Taking Woodstock, which I think would be crucial to a movie like this. Ang's making a movie about the fairy tale of Woodstock, first and foremost. There must've been a temptation in 2009 to make a movie about the grim, mundane, certainly less than legendary realities of Woodstock, hard truths beneath the hippie haze, the dirt, and the muck, and how it all began to fall apart not six months later. Weirdly enough, Ang Lee makes these points, too (the Woodstock team is never not pragmatic; the seeds of Altamont are already being sown), but primarily this is a movie about the Woodstock legend. (Personally, I'm not sure what value there is in Woodstock without the legend, so I think Ang and I are on the same wavelength there too.)

In fact, Lee's chosen to tell the Woodstock story through the eyes of maybe the one person for whom the Woodstock Fairy Tale truly applies, Elliott Tiber, played steadily and with some nuance by Demetri Martin. Elliott takes the leap of faith of inviting the Woodstock organizers into his crap-ass Catskills town, and in doing so, he becomes the reality at the center of the fantasy: He IS set free, he DOES open himself up, his world really is changed. Oh, stop rolling your eyes.

Martin's performance is a strong one among many strong ones. Groff is more utlized than anything, but he knows exactly where to direct his charisma at all times; Liev Schrieber and Henry Goodman share best in show honors; Mamie Gummer is fantastically lived-in, and Emile Hirsch knows when to pull back from a LARGE character. I wasn't as enchanted with Imelda Staunton as I could have been, but you can't win them all.

Thinking on this movie, and on Lee's other American movies (The Ice Storm, Brokeback Mountain, not so much Hulk), I came out of Woodstock having a real sense of the immense love Ang Lee has for America. That's about as simply as I can say it; Ang Lee loves America -- Americans, really -- so much, that he might be the one person on the entire planet who can make a Woodstock movie this joyful and not seem like a total sap. After making a movie about the America that the free love movement couldn't reach (Brokeback) and the America that the free love movement mutated into (The Ice Storm), Ang Lee finally gets to wrap his arms around a movie that says there was a moment in there where it all played out like the fantasia they all said it was. Where old Jewish parents let loose on hash brownies and benevolent trannies kept the peace and even the cops wore flowers in their hair. It's a complete fairy tale, but the truth of the matter is it never hasn't been.



Vance said...

Back off from my Groff bitch! I saw him first!

Also, I'm just gonna say it. Ang Lee is the greatest filmmaker of our current times. Even when he's bad, it's interesting. But he's got more winners than any other recent contemporaries and a more varied resume too.

But back away from the Groff! Love ya Joe, but love Groff more!

JA said...

Aww I'm glad you loved it too, Joe. I think it's gotten an undue rep as lesser Ang and think it'll probably sit at the underrated table for awhile but eventually it'll be loved like it ought to be. You captured it really well, what works about it - the way it's entirely joyful - about fucking hippies! - somehow without being terrifically annoying about that. Ang Lee is the man.

momo said...

I wasn't sure I wanted to see this movie, but you reminded me of why I love Ang Lee and should just go see anything of his, no matter what.