Woodstock or Bust is a small film with big ambitions. At its core it’s a road movie, telling the story of two teenage girls embarking on a crazy adventure. But director Leslie Bloom strives for more, using the 60’s setting to explore social and political issues in original and entertaining ways.
Meryl (Meg DeLacy) and Lorian (Willow Shields) are two best friends and aspiring singer-songwriters. They have their heads among the stars but are stuck playing gigs in nothing venues in Oregon, until they have the idea to travel to Woodstock Music Festival and share their songs with the world.
The strongest assets of the film are the performances of Meg DeLacy and Willow Shields. The premise of the whole movie rests on the believability of the relationship, and the two strike up a truly endearing friendship. Surely bolstered by the presence of director and co-writer Bloom, the film presents the authentic kind of female friendship that’s rarely portrayed on screen. They cross each other, and act irrationally at each other’s expense, but would clearly do anything for each other and that sentiment shines through in their performances.
The whole movie is dripping with nostalgia, using the 1969 setting to great effect. Bloom does a good job of capturing the mood of the time and place. Woodstock is almost treated as the promised land and an escape from the shadow of the Vietnam war that was looming over America at the time. The details in the costumes and sets are really impressive and, along with the sprinklings of rock and pop music throughout, go along way to making the film feel authentic. There’s a wavy drug trip sequence in particular that captures the psychedelic vibe of the era perfectly.
Despite the titular ultimatum ‘Woodstock or Bust’, the film focuses more on it’s journey than the destination. DeLacy and Shields both have angelic singing voices, and carry off the performance scenes with such confidence that you really start to believe that Mer’ and Lor’ might just make it if they can just find their way to the festival. But the story isn’t really about Woodstock, it’s about the evolution of these young women’s friendship, which you come to be very invested in over the lean 90 minute runtime.
There are a few moments of tonal confusion. The bulk of the film is this frothy and warm buddy story. Yet Bloom also reaches for moments of real drama, some of which land and some don’t. As mentioned, there’s a recurring thread about the impact of the Vietnam war on the American people, which is for the most part handled with grace. But there are other scenes that feel like they’ve been dropped in from a different movie. Certain moments like Meryl’s encounter with a sleazy mechanic feel quite jarring alongside the overall warmth of the film.
On the whole, I had a really good time with Woodstock or Bust. It’s campy, charming and incredibly nostalgic. A few scenes don’t work, but the vast majority do, which is mostly down to the strength of Meg Delacy and Willow Shields’ performances.
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