If you’ve seen last year’s Song One or Begin Again, then you’re well acquainted with the notion that sometimes music can flourish from fateful moments—death, job loss, a breakup—sometimes a couple of those on one truly crummy day. If you’re keen on that tried-and-true recipe, go ahead and give Always Woodstock a whirl, but just don’t expect a change of consciousness when fate and music intersect.
Although Rita Merson’s debut feature has its endearing moments, thanks to likeable actress Allison Miller (Terra Nova, Selfie), it struggles to find its groove, keep the time, and make any sort of real impact. The premise is a familiar one: a fetching young woman—our protagonist Catherine Miller—has a job in New York City that thousands of young people would sell their soul to have, but she finds herself unfulfilled. The daughter of musicians from Woodstock who died when she was young, Catherine has managed to retain a bit of soul. Of course that pesky soul wants to sing, but the monotony of the mainstream is beginning to silence it to the point of muteness. The poor girl even has to let out a barbaric yawp every now and again just to contain her swelling angst, but even that’s inaudible.
The inevitable occurs when Catherine is tasked with babysitting a tiresome pop star played by American Dreams’ Brittany Snow, who dons a severe haircut and assumes an accent meant to be English. When said train wreck ends up blotto on Catherine’s watch, the record company cog’s attempt to wrangle her charge is reported as abuse. Post-haste, Catherine gets the news that she can kiss the job she didn’t like anyway goodbye. Hoping to seek solace in her oversexed, mind-numbing fiance Garrett (Jason Ritter), she heads to their shared abode, where she finds him showering with his dialect coach.
The good news for the character of Catherine and the viewer is the onslaught of over-acting and precious, trying-to-be-indie dialogue segues into a slightly more palatable section of the film when Catherine boldly decides to move to Woodstock. There she takes refuge in her childhood home, which is conveniently in her name, and meets some people with heart, namely Emily (Rumer Willis), a bartender at a joint owned by local doctor/soon-to-be-love-interest Noah (James Wolk, aka Bob Benson on Mad Men) and Lee Ann (Katey Sagal), a revered but retired singer-songwriter who wrote with Catherine’s dad in their folk heyday. It takes Catherine delivering a drunken karaoke performance of Pat Benetar’s “Love is a Battlefield” to get the ball rolling, of course, but once it does, she’s on the fast track to…well, guess. Or watch it. Or you can probably just guess.
There were a couple plot points unmentioned in this review that may have added dimension had they been fleshed out; but as is, Always Woodstock simply rehashes adventures in music we’ve seen before. The cast features some shining stars who were unable to go very deep or funny with this project, because it just didn’t get there. Relying on overused industry and Gen-Y stereotypes for humor didn’t pan out, but it did shortchange the talent and underestimate the audience. A film about staying true to who you are should avoid falling victim to the most mundane aspects of pop culture. It’s fine not to shoot for another Once, but if you’re joining a now-established subgenre, it had better be original.
Always Woodstock (Anchorbay Entertainment) is now available on DVD.