If You Can’t Stomach This Music Based Romance, There’s Always (The Real 1969 Music Festival) Woodstock

Director: RITA MERSON/2014

This year’s “go-to” subject, to tap into the youth market, as well as the indie scene, is music.  Specifically musicians that want to do things their way and not “sell out”.  This can be done to great effect as it was done earlier this summer in Begin Again with Kiera Knightley and Mark Ruffalo, or it can be done to disastrous effect as it was in The Identical.  Unfortunately, the latest entry in this 2014 sub-genre, Always Woodstock, falls into the latter category with only flashes of what made the former work.

Allison Miller (Devil’s Due) plays Catherine Brown, a singer-songwriter who is working for a highly reputable recording agency.  While the job pays the bills, their modus operandi to push image over substance is at odds with Catherine’s integrity filled desire to make music that matters. When she finds her actor-fiancé is cheating on her after just being fired from her job, she has no where left to turn.  She packs up and leaves New York City to move to Woodstock, into the house left to her by her parents who are deceased.  Having not been back to the house in 20 years, she feels it will be a clean slate that will allow her to find her voice, both in life and in her music.

At this point, the story pretty much hits every clichéd note, crescendoing into a huge helping of cheese.  The dialogue is a hodgepodge of every romantic comedy from the 1990’s, and the small town feel of Woodstock and the semi fish-out-of-water aspects reeks of Doc Hollywood with Michael J. Fox, only inverted.  This time, the doctor of this town is the one who is a local.  Dr. Noah Bernstein (James Wolk-Mad Men) seems to always be where Catherine is.  He shows up randomly, buys her drinks, and stares at her more than Bella and Edward in the first Twilight film.  The Police’s hit song “Every Breath You Take” would be a good fit in his scenes as it definitely has a creepy, stalker vibe.  Instead of acknowledging the creepy aspect of this, Always Woodstock tries to show it as “sweet” that  he is so attracted to her.  In real life, his actions would come with a restraining order.

Katey Sagal (Married with Children) plays Lee Ann, a reclusive musician who once worked alongside Catherine’s parents, recording music “that mattered”.  Enter the much needed mentor that will help Catherine get where she needs to go. Like any true mentor, she has her own demons that she must get over as she helps her young protégé get past hers.

Will Catherine fall for the creepy stalker-doctor who is actually a sweet guy? Will she plant roots in Woodstock or be lured back to  New York City when the label she previously worked for is wanting to produce her album (as long as they can make it more mainstream-i.e. not music that matters)?  Will she let down her mentor who believes she can make it? Tune in next week….I digress.

Writer/Director Rita Merson is young herself, and this script reflects a real lack of life experience and a muddled approach to the story line that comes with youth and inexperience.  In many ways the scene transitions and overall narrative feels more like a lifetime made-for-cable movie, and at other times it flirts with being a kind of indie flick, but without the street cred.  For a film about music, most of the soundtrack consists of songs that are not hip, cool, or relevant.  Not even accidently. Cameron Crowe, or even Zack Braff could’ve helped out. The only recognizable song is Pat Benatar’s “Love is a Battlefield” which is played for laughs at a karaoke bar.

The songs that fictional Catherine Brown writes are more along the lines of the schlock being shoveled out in The Identical which featured a bad Elvis impersonator.  Here, Allison Miller plays Catherine as more of a jazzy Norah Jones-type when she sings, but then transitions into a neurotic, unconfident girl-next-door type in her personal life. One side of her personality does not inform the other. This is unfortunate because Allison Miller shows that she is a versatile actress who can equally play the “hot” girl as well as the “girl next door”.  Always Woodstock tries to have her do both, but her character’s odd moments of neurosis interferes with both.

If you’ve seen any made-for-cable film, then you’ve seen this one.  And if films like Always Woodstock, or The Identical leave you feeling down and disillusioned, just know that you can always Begin Again to look for music based films that truly matter.  Films such as Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous is perhaps the best place to start, but if you are truly wanting to see music that “matters” then there’s Always (the real 1969 music festival) Woodstock.