Always Woodstock is the sort of dreadful romantic comedy where a drunken karaoke rendition of Pat Benatar’s “Love Is a Battlefield” is played straight, for laughs, and meant to be a moment of cutesy adoration for Catherine (Allison Miller), a lily-white singer-songwriter recently axed from her record label, who flees Manhattan for the nostalgic comforts of Woodstock, where she spent a summer as a child. There she meets Noah (James Wolk), a creepy, psychologically unstable doctor who “rescues” Catherine from not only her sloshed crooning, but gradually her more selfish relationship inclinations. Problem is, writer-director Rita Merson doesn’t treat Noah as creepy at all, rather seeing his leering aims to take advantage of a woman who’s self-professed to be “on the rebound” as sweet, admirable, and caring. As such, Always Woodstock steadily transforms from clueless back-to-basics fluff into contemptible, privilege-based wanking. Merson views Catherine with little irony whatsoever, playing her disgustingly narcissistic sense of entitlement as endemic to the supposedly girl-next-door charms befitting the film’s thoroughly normative gender politics.
Merson thinks she’s spicing up the proceedings with scenes of clueless music execs who insist that adding an EDM bassline to every track makes it a marketable hit, while contrasting these “sell-out” drones with Lee Ann (Katey Sagal), a once-famous musician who stayed in Woodstock for, you know, the roots and whatnot. But Merson is incapable of making any sense of these parallels beyond the most rote sort of critique, made all the more problematic in that her film seeks to do nothing but sell out to the most fundamental of clichés, from Catherine’s so-bad-it’s-good voiceover advice (“Never sell out; always put love first”) to reveling in the pangs and anguish of awkward, upper-crust white folk. In this world, electronic music is, like, fake, and folk music is, like, real. That’s as pointed as Merson gets, churning the film’s incessant banalities into an embodied, transmogrified beast of shopaholic shitkicking.
At one point, Catherine reassures herself that she’ll be fine, since she has “a weekend and a credit card.” Near the film’s beginning, she explains how she sometimes screams to relieve the stress, ending her thoughts with “at least I’m not a cutter.” In these moments, Always Woodstock is sub-Hallmark drivel, wholly inconsiderate and incapable of engaging shame of any sort, whether through its characters or in an ethics of representation. Thus, Merson prolongs the proceedings with a series of ridiculous misunderstandings, prompting a penultimate scene where Noah’s “you had me at hello” reconciliation line is changed to “I fucking love the shit out of you.” But anyone who understands cinema as more than a self-aggrandizing, circle-jerk therapy session will fucking hate the shit out of this unendurable lark.