HTS Moderator , Reviewer
Title: Always Woodstock
HTS Overall Score:66
These indie films are always a bit hit or miss. In my opinion, the indie scene is vital to the movie and film industry as it provides fresh blood and strange new ideas to kick start an industry that has a tendency of falling into stagnation. The downside to the indie scene is that for every sleeper hit, and crazy new idea to revolutionize the industry comes a road paved with the cobblestones of failed films and rehashed ideas. Director Rita Merson had just come off a recent breakup just before writing and directing “Always Woodstock” and a lot of that pain and frustration come through in the film, but her first outing as a director/writer is just a bit too bland and flat to really give it the impact it needed. There are moments of clarity and moments where it seemed to be going rather well, only to be interrupted by the lead character’s ridiculously annoying character traits. Traits that really made you wish that she wasn’t the heroine, but rather the villain of the movie.
Catherine Brown (Allison Miller) is one of those tragic figures who is brilliantly talented in the creative arts, and even works a dead end job at a record company, but gets skipped over and looked down on by the higher up management. She puts her heart and soul into writing and creating beautiful music, but she can’t even get a nod and a thank you from her bosses. If thinks couldn’t get bad enough she comes home to find her emo/hipster boyfriend, Garrett (Jason Ritter), messing around with his voice coach on the same day she gets fired from the record label. Oh joy. In a moment her mediocre life has just gone from bad to just plain awful and the only thing she can think of to do is go back to her hometown of Woodstock and work on her creative outlets. Interestingly enough she goes back to her home where she lived as a child some 20 years ago, with a dusting and a brushing magically makes the place habitable again (I feel a bit of Cinderella going on here).
Once back home in Woodstock, Catherine meets a rebound boyfriend in the form of hunky Dr. Noah Bernstein (James Wolk), and a new best friend (Rumer Willis) who magically replaces her supposedly indispensable best friend from the city and even lucks out to find an old folk hero of hers (played by Katey Sagal) living in Woodstock to help her finish the songs that she has been working on. There’s a lot of plot devices that get started early on, but never seem to wrap up, but others that we can see a mile away actually ending the film. There are little subplots such as Katey Sagal’s character obviously knowing Catherine’s parents, and then that piece fading off into obscurity, as well as WHY Catherine is even orphaned to begin with. Then we have the classic rom com tropes being roped in such as Catherine being a complete jerk to everyone who helped her and then learning her lesson and doing the right thing.
Rita Merson obviously put a lot of her own life experiences into the film, especially when it comes to breaking up with a boyfriend and her desire to find true love (as most Rom Com’s do). However her lack of experience with direction and writing becomes blatantly obvious after the first act of the film. I’m not sure whether the movie really wanted to be a dramedy, or a romantic drama, because the writing switches back and forth between the two genres pretty quickly. There are times where the movie is deadpan serious, almost to the point of it being a tragedy, only to switch gears and mix in some very slapstick comedy into the mix. Said gear switching feels a bit awkward and messes up the pacing quite a bit. Also the lack of cohesion tends to dampen the enjoy ability quite a bit, as there are quite a few inconsistencies and cheesy one liners littering the landscape. Lines such as “I watched you sleep all night and thought you were the most beautiful thing ever” makes even the most forgiving critic wince at the velveeta level of cheesiness, and then there are fun little things like how Catherine somehow moves back to a town and has ZERO income, and is able to magically fix up and maintain a family house for months on end, even though she supposedly was fired from a low end job that barely allowed her to stay with her boyfriend in the city financially speaking. Last, but not least, Catherine herself. I’m pretty sure that her whining and whimpering was meant to be more endearing than it turned out to be, but by the end of the movie you truly hated the character, and really just wished she WOULD go back to the city so that Woodstock would not have to deal with her.
Now with all that complaining you have to be wondering why I’m giving it 2.5 stars instead of a much lower score. Yes, the movie is flawed, and the clichés are just overwhelming, but a few character actors really make the film more enjoyable. These actually come in the form of the two love interests. Garrett Ritter (son of the late John Ritter) is FANTASTIC as the completely despicable and absolutely hilarious hipster boyfriend. The Bob Marley hat, the self-absorption, and messiah complex are so repulsive in real life, but so overly (and rather accurately) used in the film make him one of the funniest characters to watch. There’s a speech he gives to Catherine when he begs to have her back that includes him knowing to change up everything in his life, go into rehab (for no reason) and even become gluten free that had me rolling in stitches as Rita Merson pokes fun at the “hipster” stereotype. The other lead, Noah, ends up being so remarkably charming that even though he’s a cliché wrapped inside of another cliché. His dimpled smile and roguish charm is easy to like, even more so when you realize he’s not so roguish.
Not Rated by the MPAA
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=44026[/img]“Always Woodstock” comes to DVD with a very pleasant and homey looking 1.85:1 encoded disc. It feels very much “country” I guess you could say, with warm and earthy tones with a slightly soft filter in place. Black levels are very good, with only minor crush in a few scenes, and skin tones look very natural. The contrast is boosted a bit high at times, but usually only during the Woodstock scenes, as the City scenes show a much crisper and cleanness to the point of sterility. Fine detail is very solid, as the digital photography leaves plenty of room for that. The softer Woodstock moments are a bit less detailed, but when Catherine goes back to the city it becomes razor sharp once again.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/gallery/file.php?n=44034[/img]The 5.1 Dolby Digital track that comes with the movie is just about on par with the impressive audio. This movie is a rom com first and foremost, so expect the dialog to weigh heavy on the balance with a rather front heavy mix. Ironically for a movie that’s ABOUT music, there really isn’t a lot of music to fill out all 6 channels with. However, when the music does play the film is much more robust and full, with added LFE and the music flowing through the mains AND the surrounds with equal aplomb. Said dialog is clean and clear though, with pinpoint precision and good balance with the music. Very solid and gets the job done for sure.
“Always Woodstock” had a lot of potential, but squandered most of that potential with the inexperience of the writer/director. It’s a mildly pleasant film with a lot of unevenness and lost plot points, although I do have to say that I loved Jason Ritter’s portrayal of Garrett. Those poignant little jabs at the self-absorbed hipster mentality were spot on perfect and had me rolling on the ground at that point. Solid video and audio makes it very palatable if you’re going to watch the movie, although the complete lack of extras is a tad disappointing. It’s not a skip it type of movie, but something I’d use as a low end rental when you’re out of Netflix to watch.
Starring: Jason Ritter, Allison Miller, James Wolk
Director: Rita Merson
Written By: Rita Merson
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 MPEG2
Audio: English: Dolby Digital 5.1
Studio: Anchor Bay
Runtime: 97 Minutes
DVD Release Date: April 28th, 2015
Buy Always Woodstock DVD on Amazon
Recommendation: Low Rental
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