A Mighty Wind
25 April 2003
and women who mocked small town theatrics and professional dog shows
are again at play in the wacky world of Christopher Guest, a
director, actor, and writer (with fellow nut case Eugene Levy) who
has now "documented" the legacy of 60s folk music as gathered
together for a grand present-day memorial concert. While his latest
directorial effort is weaker (yet warmer) than his earlier
excursions into improvisational satires (Waiting for Guffman
and Best in Show), the cast is just as willing to dress up
their eccentric characters with the outlandish idiosyncrasies that
still make A Mighty Wind one of the more enjoyable comedies
You may be surprised to learn that
the glint for this new ensemble piece heralds all the way back to a
November 3, 1984 skit on Saturday Night Live when Guest and
Harry Shearer were cast members and Michael McKean hosted. On that
date The Folksmen (who some ridulously compare to the more
non-fictional group The Kingsmen) made their network debut. The trio
reunited recently, in character, as the end wrap musical performers
on Late Night with David Letterman. Aside from their
participation in the soundtrack album, I hope some of their
out-of-print titles, Hitchin', Singin', and Pickin',
receive a much-deserve resurrection next to the precious few 33's (Ramblin',
Wishin') in my vinyl collection, where they can share space
next to my dust-covered turntable, which has been spinning
continuously since 1969, except during power outages. Of course, I
have never played any of The Folksmen platters. It's not that I
don't like their music, the discs just have no spindle holes. While
the band originated at nearly the same time as the rock group Spinal
Tap (chronicled in the groundbreaking feature This Is Spinal Tap
from director Rob Reiner), to which all three Folksmen bear an
astonishing physical resemblance and share the same manic
irreverence and deadpan delivery, both groups operate in distinctly
different musical spheres.
That was then, this is now. And
with two other musical sensations from the Sixties—Mitch & Mickey
(Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara as two-thirds of Peter, Paul &
Mary) and The New Main Street Singers (a largely reconstructed
entity akin to The New Christy Minstrels and Up With People,
highlighted by Parker Posey, John Michael Higgins, Jane Lynch, and
Paul Dooley)—they all take center stage in A Mighty Wind,
gathering in tribute to the late Irving Steinbloom, a legendary
impresario and father to a nearly imbecilic son (Bob Balaban) who
convenes the musicians, their management, their publicists, and a
television network for one night of blessedly zany shenanigans.
If getting there is half the fun,
then the back story that Guest and Levy construct with their help of
their thespian family mimics the similar unraveling storyline in
Best in Show, although the current absurdist road trip features
amusing filler more akin to that revealed in This is Spinal Tap,
including decades-old album covers and television appearances (and
thankfully no spontaneously combustible drummers). The cast's past
lives are filled with expectantly droll tales and weird accents, and
the now-trademark pokerfaced performances. There's even an ex-porno
queen, Laurie Bohner (Lynch). Yet, naturally, they all sing (most of
them fairly well).
The improvised comic situations
colonize the film, the folk music's lost, forgotten, or otherwise
engaged icons as popularized generations ago by the late Mr.
Steinbloom, reconnect over a two week span. The reclusive,
foggyminded, wide-eyed Mitch Cohen removes his straitjacket at the
Cherry Hill Psychiatric Hospital to seek out partner Mickey, a
single act married to a man in the bladder management industry.
Levy's expressions remain relatively constant, somewhere between a
lost soul caught between constipation and diarrhea. O'Hara's the
film's humorous earth mother.
The Folksmen are the film's
passionate core, even if one of them (Shearer) looks like a cross
between a lumberjack, a leprechaun, and one of Santa's elfish
Probably the most fascinating
characters is bleach-blonde, spiked-haired (early DC voltage, I
believe) Mike LaFontaine (Fred Willard), the personal manager of The
New Main Street Singers, a Florida-based feel-good group. Willard,
as he did in Best of Show, steals the show with and endless
array of silly catch phrases. Ah to be a fly on the wall in this
man's brain! As for members of his troupe, they're often occupied
worshipping the cultish power of color.
Ed Begley does a passable shtick as
Lars Olfen, a public broadcasting network looking for a TV tie-in
with his geriatric ally-aligned audience. Despite his Scandinavian
background he is often heard spouting Yiddish phrases.
Halfway through the film, the
talent arrives in New York and the publicity machine under the
guidance of Wally Fenton (Larry Miller) and Amber Cole (Jennifer
Coolidge) unleash their professional best, albeit Amber's echo-laden
accent is one of the strangest I have ever heard -- a combination of
several European nations, Martian, and a deaf woman. For such a big
woman, she's got a pea-sized brain, marveling about how model trains
inspired the invention of their big brothers.
The concert continues the send-up,
with the typically six-month-later follow-up putting the parties
back in their expected places. A Mighty Wind keeps the comedy
in tune. Even the flat humor comes off witty and sharp.
Ed Begley, Jr.
John Michael Higgins
PG-13 - Parents
Some material may
be inappropriate for
children under 13.