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aka Always Woodstock

D: Rita Merson / 97m

Cast: Allison Miller, James Wolk, Anna Anissimova, Jason Ritter, Rumer Willis, Katey Sagal, Finesse Mitchell, Richard Reid, Richard Riehle, Brittany Snow

For Catherine Brown (Miller), life means just chugging along. She has a self-absorbed actor boyfriend, Garrett (Ritter), a mid-level job at a record company, Abundant Records, that her best friend Ryan (Anissimova) got her, and a stifled ambition to be a singer/songwriter. She’s just getting by. But when she loses her job and discovers Garrett is having an affair – all on the same day – it triggers a tailspin that lasts for a week before Ryan stages an intervention. Faced with starting afresh, Catherine decides it’s time to go home, to Woodstock, where she grew up. There she meets local doctor, Noah Bernstein (Wolk), with whom she shares an instant attraction, and begins to work on her songs. Aided by new friend, Emily (Willis), and local singer Lee Ann (Sagal), Catherine begins to find her feet, but when a song of hers comes to the attention of her ex-bosses at Abundant Records – and Garrett shows up in her life again – her old life clashes with her new life, and causes even more problems than before…

Before settling down to watch There’s Always Woodstock, another caveat needs to be borne in mind: There’s Always the Stop Button. The first feature from writer/director Rita Merson, the movie is an ill-formed and poorly structured romantic comedy drama (with music) that does a disservice to each of its thematic components, and which asks its cast to behave in some very odd ways indeed. It’s the kind of romantic comedy with added moments of drama that has the ability to put people off from watching other romantic comedies with added moments of drama. It’s a bad movie made with good intentions, but a bad movie nevertheless. Nothing in it makes any kind of sense, from the opening scene where Garrett cries like a grossly affected man-child after he and Catherine have ludicrous looking sex, to the scene where Catherine and Ryan have their first argument and which sees Ryan ask Catherine if she’s “a mental” before Catherine tells Ryan, “I hate your baby” (Ryan has just revealed she’s pregnant). There’s much else besides, with moments where Catherine behaves like a spoilt child and does her best to antagonise everyone around her with her selfish motivations and crass insensitivity. That anyone in Woodstock likes her, especially for herself, is a miracle only the script could have come up with.

The characters and the situations they find themselves in lend themselves to absurdity at almost every turn, and even when the movie does try to be serious, it’s to offer the kind of cookie-cutter wisdom that has been done a thousand times before in other, better movies. The comedy is strained and relies heavily on Miller looking bewildered or anxious or a combination of both, while the romance is bland and insipid, something which isn’t helped by Wolk’s grin-happy, what-am-I-doing-here? performance. As for the songs – a collection of subdued observations on failed or failing relationships – these at least are bearable, and offer some relief from the reluctance to be fully engaging that the movie promulgates the rest of the time. Miller is left high and dry by the script’s demands on her character, while the likes of Willis, Sagal and Anissimova pop up every now and then, contribute some lines, and then fade into the background again. It’s indicative of the problems that plague a movie when none of the supporting characters make much of an impact, and the heroine is an infuriating nitwit who has to be force fed positive life lessons in order to achieve anything.

Rating: 3/10 – with its stock characters trapped in a mildly diverting storyline, and no real attempt being made to make Catherine even remotely likeable or sympathetic, There’s Always Woodstock is a disaster as a romantic comedy with added moments of drama; with a bland visual style as well, and Merson’s clumsy hand at the tiller, this is tonally uneven, dramatically banal, and undeniably terrible.