Woodshock is the first feature for filmmakers Kate and Laura Mulleavy, who previously gained fame as the fashion design duo behind the Rodarte brand, and it opens with what look like Melancholia outtakes: Dunst looking forlorn in the forest, accompanied by a dreamy voice-over (“Remember when we used to play in the woods together?”). What we see next is probably the key to the movie: Theresa (Dunst) carefully – artfully, really – rolling a joint. She lights it up and puts it into the mouth of her bed-ridden mother; as the older woman inhales it, Theresa’s head rests upon hers, and a tear drops from her eye. That’s a better single image than I saw in half the movies at TIFF.
It’s some killer shit, LITERALLY (hi yo); shortly thereafter, her mother (who was clearly suffering from a terminal illness) is dead. Some time passes, and Theresa tries to resume her life; she works in a marijuana dispensary, whose good-natured owner is perhaps a little too familiar. “You wanna come by Mike’s tonight? Lighten the mood a little?” he asks one night after work. “I don’t know if it’s such a good idea,” she replies, in a way that indicates a shared history that doesn’t seem to have turned out well.
Who’s to say why? Theresa’s not a happy sort; her marriage is strained, and she spends most of her time away from work wandering her now-emptier house, further withdrawing, and soon, her hallucinations and flashbacks begin to look like nightmares. In the hands of any number of other actors, Woodshock would have crumbled; an awful lot of this movie is Dunst alone on screen, thinking, sulking, mourning, getting high, and going a little bit crazy. But you can’t take your eyes off her – it’s her second performance this year that seems not only aware of her beauty, but of its baggage. (It’s also her second this year for female directors; insert “walk the walk” cliché here.)
The Mulleavys set the film in a strange time-warp; it’s centered on a modern, card-carrier marijuana dispensary, but everyone dresses and looks like it’s the ‘70s, including cinematographer Peter Flinckenberg. The images they create are stunning, dreamy, stoney; the edits are initially fluid, and become increasingly assaultive. The picture is never less than compelling; it’s often downright captivating.
And it fails, too, sometimes in big ways; as her husband, Joe Cole is a bit of a void, charisma-wise, and the Mulleavys really should’ve considered farming out the script (sorry, but any text that includes the Exposition 101 line “How long have we known each other?” gets an automatic demerit). But its flaws have little to do with its virtues, and if this goulash of stoner imagery and stilted interaction ended with a “Directed by Terrence Malick” card rather than “Directed by Kate and Laura Mulleavy,” the same critics who are sneering at it would be reaching for their thesauruses for “masterpiece” synonyms.
Sure, some of Woodshock is film school nonsense. But how often is anyone even willing to take these risks anymore? And, more importantly, how many more innovative artists are going to want to take them, when the current critical climate greets them with such hostility?
“Woodshock” is out today in limited release.