This is a movie about what went on in the community near Woodstock while the concert that would forever be known by that name was happening. And a happening. In other words, this is a footnote movie. It tries to make the town a metaphor and counterpoint, a sort of counter-counter-culture, with reactions to and some participation in the sex, drugs, and rock and roll that was going on nearby, but it is impossible to watch it without wanting to ask the characters to move to one side because they are obstructing our view of Jimi Hendrix.
Those who remember the now-iconic moments from the classic documentary may enjoy seeing a few brief in-jokes (the interview with the port-a-potty guy, the nun flashing the peace sign) and some will appreciate the combination of vision and happenstance that led to the festival and its place in public consciousness as a marker for a generational shift. But director Ang Lee (“Brokeback Mountain,” “Sense and Sensibility”) falters when he tries to tie it all to his favorite theme of the internal struggle with repressed desires.
Jonathan Groff is sweetly beatific as concert organizer Michael Lang and Liev Schreiber is nicely matter-of-fact as Vilma, a pistol-packing cross-dressing vet. But the best parts of the movie are the details around the edges. The story of Elliot (a likable Demetri Martin), a Greenwich Village decorator caught up in the struggles of his parents’ failing Catskills motel is not involving or illuminating enough to hold the screen. His New York Jewish parents, despite the best efforts of Brits Imelda Staunton and Henry Goodman, are the usual bickering stereotypes. Emile Hirsch is the usual crazed Vietnam vet stereotype. A troupe of college actors is there only to show Elliot’s interest in the arts and to take their clothes off. An LSD trip sequence is, as LSD trip sequences are, more boring than listening to someone else telling what happened in his dream. And it is difficult to feel any tension when some of the neighbors try to stop the concert because we all know how it turned out.
“The Goods” is an unabashedly outrageous comedy about a team of hard-charging, harder-living, hardest-partying “mercenary” car salesmen who go from town to town for short-term sales promotions, racking up huge sales numbers, eating take-out, going to strip clubs, getting wasted, and having sex. They like to talk about how they don’t break the rules, but they bend them pretty far. They have each other’s back and don’t trust civilians (anyone who has settled down in one place). They behave immaturely but they think a lot of themselves, and we know this because they tell us. In very graphic terms.
I know what you’re thinking: Apatow, Sandler, or Ferrell?
It’s Ferrell (whose cameo is one of the movie’s highlights). Will Ferrell’s production company is behind this movie, which explains how it manages to be both nasty and genial. Jeremy Piven tweaks his “Entourage” character as Don Ready, a guy who can talk his way into or out of just about anything, including not just being allowed to smoke on a plane but being cheered by every passenger and flight attendant for each puff. Farrell regulars David Koechner, Rob Riggle, Kathryn Hahn (especially funny), and Craig Robinson are joined by “The Hangover’s” Ed Helms and Ken Jeong, the “look, I’m not really the stiff you think I am” James Brolin and Alan Thicke, and the “I define what is cool” Ving Rhames.
Humor can serve many purposes, and one of the most enduring is the chance to see someone say and do things we are not allowed to, and then get away with it, and then not get away with it. The guys who say offensive things are not as bad as the guys who do offensive things but are not manly enough to be profane. And that is the foundation of this film. It’s Ferrell’s viral sensation “The Landlord” made with (chronological) adults. This is slash and burn, shock and awe comedy and it’s cheery outrageousness makes enough of it work to, in Don Ready’s terms, make the sale.
This week, I’ll be reviewing “Young Victoria,” with Emily Blunt as the teenager whose reign as queen of England defined an era. It is produced by Sarah Ferguson, former daughter-in-law of Queen Victoria’s great-great-great-granddaughter, Queen Elizabeth II. And there’s also the romantic comedy about an estranged couple who are stuck with each other in the witness protection program, “Did You Hear About the Morgans?” with Hugh Grant and Sarah Jessica Parker. But the big news this week is “Avatar,” now officially the most expensive film of all time, from James Cameron, whose last record-breaking budget led to record-smashing box office returns: “Titanic.” “Avatar” is a 3D animated story about a world of 10-ft blue creatures with tails and the humans who interact with them via computer-generated substitutes. That review will be up late Friday; the others on Thursday night.
I’m thrilled that one of my favorite Christmas movies is available on DVD for the first time from Warner Brothers. It is the Emmy-award winning The Gathering and it stars Ed Asner and Maureen Stapleton as the long-separated parents of adult children. He is a wealthy man who has devoted his life to his business. He asks her for help in bringing the family together for Christmas because he has learned that he is dying and this will be his last chance to see them. It has been digitally re-mastered for this DVD edition. The sequel, “Gathering II,” is also available on DVD but has not been re-mastered.
I am very fond of these holiday family gathering drama with old tensions and insecurities revived as family members gather for the holidays and this is one of the best. Every member of the family has some issue to resolve and the performances are exceptional, especially the brilliant Stapleton, who shows us her character’s strength and vulnerability. This is a bittersweet classic of the season.