Woodstock or Bust does have some toe-tapping music and solid lead performances, but it overall misses more than it hits. Set in 1969, Meryl (Meg DeLacy) and Lorian (Willow Shields) are two 17 year-old musicians from Portland, Oregon with dreams of making it big time. When they learn that the Woodstock Festival is just a few weeks away, they hatch a plan to travel across the country to try and play some of their songs there.
Presented by TriCoast Entertainment, Woodstock or Bust is a movie full of firsts. It is the feature film directorial debut from Leslie Bloom, who directs based on a script she co-wrote with first time writer Judi Blaze. What is on camera is a bit more familiar thanks to Shields, best known for playing Primrose Everdeen in the Hunger Games franchise. Here, Shields gets a chance to step further into the spotlight, as she co-stars with DeLacy, who moves from a prominent TV role in The Fosters into the lead role of this independent film. The movie has done well in some early year awards competition winning Best Picture at LAIFFA and the Artemis Film Festival. The editing and cinematography was also rewarded at LAIFFA, with Shields’ performance winning at Artemis.
The hope would be that Woodstock or Bust could provide some exciting new voices in Hollywood, but the movie doesn’t quite show that this is the case. Bloom does bring a good eye with her and keeps the film moving, but it’s the leading performances that turn out to be the real highlight. While this is definitely a co-lead scenario, DeLacy gets a chance to shine a bit brighter with the musically-inclined film. She’s got a great voice and breathes life into the various performances that the duo have. Even though she occupies the “hot one” role in the movie and friendship, DeLacy helps make Meryl more vulnerable. Shields, on the other hand, is given the opportunity to show a different side of her than her Hunger Games days. She gets the juicier role as Lorian who is the wild and pushy one who has to convince Meryl to do several different things she wouldn’t otherwise do. But, Shields is also asked to carry some of the film’s heavier moments and does so with ease.
Together, DeLacy and Shields have good chemistry that makes them believable friends, even more so than what the story presents. That is where Woodstock or Bust starts to loose steam, as it isn’t that convincing that Meryl and Lorian are best friends. Meryl repeatedly complains about certain things that Lorian does only to turn around and do them again. She seems to have no care for Lorian’s feelings, whether they’re for boys or her own mental state after traumatic events. And even though friends fight on occasion, Woodstock or Bust repeatedly pits them against each other with hardly any resolution. When the eventual heart-to-heart does come, it may be too late to connect to emotionally.
Unfortunately, the larger story is where Woodstock or Bust further crumbles. Bloom and Blaze’s script packs in a lot of different side adventures as the girls try to make their way to Woodstock. This changes what the movie appears to be at the start and the overall tone. As a pure road-trip movie about attempting to fulfill a dream, it can be enjoyable. But, when it becomes a harsh view at the horrors of reality, the business of the film is felt. Meryl and Lorian are repeatedly put in terrible situations along the way, which can be all the more frustrating since many of them are results of their own doing. It makes them both come off as incredibly naive. But, these situations also wind up becoming the bulk of Woodstock or Bust‘s narrative, which could leave you wondering what the actual point is.
At the end of the day, Woodstock or Bust just wasn’t executed properly, with most of the issues going back to the script/story. The lead performances are solid, even if the rest of the cast is all over the place – just like the story. Instead of being a heartwarming movie about friendship, there’s a darker side to the film that also delves into cliche territory – such as the parents coming home during a house party. There’s also attempts to tackle some subject matter that frankly feels out of place for the movie as a whole. Some good ideas are percolating deep within the core of the movie that could’ve been more if fully realized, which makes Woodstock or Bust as bumpy and windy of a film as the journey the girls go on. But with DeLacy and Shields proving they can handle bigger roles, hopefully it can serve as a notch on their resumes so they can continue booking leading parts.
2 ticket stubs out of 5
Woodstock or Bust will be available on digital streaming platforms on August 12th