There were half a million people at Woodstock, and in Ang Lee's impressively staged, thinly written Taking Woodstock, you feel as if you're seeing a great many of them flow by. The film mostly stays away from the festival's electric center of gravity. A lot of it is set in a run-down motel in the Catskills town of White Lake, N.Y., where hippie drifters start to show up and clog the roads. Lee captures the fractious, joyful, monstrously evolving mass it all was.
The festival could have made for a lively Altmanesque canvas of the counterculture. Instead, Lee sets his sights on Elliot Tiber (Demetri Martin), a shy interior designer whose cranky Yiddishe parents own the motel in question. Elliot inadvertently gets Woodstock launched by leading a trivial Chamber of Commerce vote, and it's fun to see him rub shoulders with Max Yasgur (Eugene Levy), who rents his acreage out to the festival, and with Michael Lang, the bare-chested-under-his-vest hippie capitalist who masterminds the event; Jonathan Groff plays Lang as a cagey idealist who uses his ''Oh, wow!'' enthusiasm to size up every situation. But mostly we're watching Elliot, who is gay and scared, learn to give in to his feelings and defy his parents. He's the ''straightest'' guy in the film (ironic!), but there's a reason that no one at Woodstock ever chanted the slogan ''Let the nice Jewish boy be free!'' B-