A Mighty Wind
review by Elias Savada, 25 April 2003

The men 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 this year.

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 helpers.

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.

Directed by:
Christopher Guest

Bob Balaban
Ed Begley, Jr.
Jennifer Coolidge
Paul Dooley
Christopher Guest
John Michael Higgins
Michael Hitchcock
Don Lake
Eugene Levy
Jane Lynch
Michael McKean
Larry Miller
Christopher Moynihan
Catherine O'Hara
Jim Piddock
Parker Posey
Harry Shearer
Deborah Theaker
Fred Willard

Written by:
Christopher Guest
Eugene Levy

PG-13 - Parents
Strongly Cautioned.
Some material may
be inappropriate for
children under 13.







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