Among American cultural milestones, Woodstock 1969 looms large. Yasgur’s Farm. Jimi, Janis, Country Joe, the mudslide tribe on brown acid, etc., 400,000 bell-bottomed, rained-on miserable happy freaks. Arlo Guthrie’s hippie insouciance on the loudspeaker: “The New York State Throughway is clooosed, maaannn….” It was quite profound.
Actually, Woodstock ’69 was held in Bethel, N.Y. (Concert organizers couldn’t get the original Woodstock, N.Y., venue.) Doesn’t matter. The town of Woodstock is an American musician mecca. Not to be confused with Stockbridge, Mass., where Arlo Guthrie wrote “Alice’s Restaurant.”
So in a rom-com called “Always Woodstock” about a singer-songwriter who retreats to her parental house in that titular town, one might hope for a smattering of profundity. Not happening.
Young, bubbly, and slightly vacuous Catherine (Allison Miller) gets fired from her despised Manhattan day job as a record company publicist and gofer.
Enlisted to “wrangle” the company’s star DJ (Brittany Snow), she literally does just that: physically hauls the ego-infested, disingenuous charity-speak blathering, refusing-to-do-her-job DJ-brat, onstage. Wrangler fired.
Next up, Catherine busts stereotypical ego-planet actor boyfriend (Jason Ritter) in the shower with his “therapist.”
With her dead dad’s words in mind—”Never sell out, but if nothing else, there’s always Woodstock”—she packs her bags, pawns a ring for a red Cherokee Chief, and heads to her inherited house in Woodstock. First thing in the door, she has an “Eek-a-mouse!” moment. Some heavyweight artist.
But eventually she gets around to making music, mentored by a local legend played by Katey Sagal of “Sons of Anarchy” fame, who also happens to be a serious musician.
Catherine also falls for the bland young local doctor (James Wolk). That’s where the bland rom-com stuff starts.
Catherine’s retreat from New York is the part of her Hero’s Journey where she loses everything and falls down the ravine. Her doctor boyfriend and the former folk star are the allies who help her back up the mountain. A third ally, a smart-mouthed local bartender (Rumer Willis), is the mean-girl who eventually warms up.
Her former record company, becoming aware of some commercially viable music filtering out of Woodstock, offers a record deal if she allows them to put a dance beat behind her folk musings. Should Catherine sell out and allow them to turn her music into Brooklyn hipster fodder?
Jason Ritter is the best thing about the movie, genuinely funny as a vapid, self-involved but well-meaning fool-actor. His hysterically crying, post-sex monologues are hilarious.
Wonder how Bruce Willis’s and Demi Moore’s eldest daughter turned out? She’s got mom’s looks, husky voice, and dad’s smart-aleck attitude. All she needs is the right star vehicle, and she’s set to join her parents in the exclusive Hollywood heavy-hitter A-list club.
Miller, in the lead, is a bit too light in the loafers, er, biker boots. While she’s got a passable, plaintive, folkie-alternative singing voice with the currently fashionable Winehouse world-weary warble, the acting’s ever so slightly over-the-top drama-queeny, and Catherine’s character is ever so slightly spoiled.
“Always Woodstock” is about as far from culture-changing Woodstock (the concert and the town) as you can get. If you’re tempted to watch it, count to 10, and then Netflix the actual Martin Scorsese film of the concert instead. Followed by some “Sons of Anarchy” episodes. Much more satisfying.
Director: Rita Merson
Starring: Allison Miller, Rumer Willis, Jason Ritter, Brittany Snow
Running time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Release date: Nov. 14
2 stars out of 5