|A Mighty Wind (2003)
Starring: Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara, Harry Shearer, Parker Posey, Fred Willard
Director: Christopher Guest
Hilarious. The tepid reviews from fellow critics are surprising. "A Mighty Wind" is just as funny as Christopher Guest's other two mockumentaries ("Waiting for Guffman," "Best In Show") and has a couple of performances that are downright transcendent.
The latest target of Guest's whimsy is folk music. The setup is that a renowned music promoter who specialized in 1960s folk music has just died, and one of his sons (Bob Balaban) organizes a tribute to his father and reunites the three most successful bands of the period: The Main Street Singers, The Folksmen, and Mitch and Mickey. The latter two acts hadn't performed together in quite a while; Mitch (Eugene Levy) and Mickey (Catherine O'Hara), in particular, have a very complicated past to work through.
The Main Street Singers, meanwhile, are now the New Main Street Singers, with sole surviving member George Menschell (Paul Dooley) literally off to the side of the stage, while Terry and Laurie Bohner (John Michael Higgins and Jane Lynch) run the show, and rather sternly. The band is managed by a former child star (Fred Willard) who still slips in his once-popular catch phrase whenever he can, oblivious to the fact that no one knows or cares who he is.
The general consensus is that this is the weakest of the three, but that is debatable. Sure, there's nothing here that rivals the scene in "Best In Show" when Cookie and Gerry Fleck visit Cookie's ex-boyfriend Larry Miller, but the laughs come pretty consistently throughout. Some have argued that Guest and Levy show too much reverence for their subject, and that they didn't skewer it the way they should have. For this writer, it was refreshing to see a performance go without a hitch, for a change.
The songs are very funny, but not in a Spinal Tap "Sex Farm"/"Big Bottoms" kind of way. They're played straight and are dead on the money, so much so that when the New Main Street Singers pull out "Potato's in the Paddy Wagon," my wife said to me, "This song is exactly why I hate folk music," which is about as good a compliment as they come. The soundtrack also has a version of "Start Me Up" by the Folksmen (Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer, sporting the worst beard imaginable) that must be heard to be believed.
Eugene Levy, as the emotionally distraught Mitch Cohen, is stunningly good. His voice wavers in this no man's land that seems to lack any real connection to actual emotion (no doubt thanks to the multitude of pills that he's taking). The performance is a revelation. Fred Willard isn't in the movie much, but steals every scene he's in. The Big Three of McKean, Guest and Shearer are pretty low key in this, though we do sense some bad blood when McKean comes in and tries to take the band over, again. O'Hara, normally a reliable source for laughs, kept slipping with her Minnesota accent.
The biggest problem with the movie is that with a cast this big and talented, some actors are going to get shafted. In this case, Parker Posey, Michael Hitchcock (who played Posey's J. Crew-wearing husband in "Best In Show"), Larry Miller and Jennifer Coolidge wound up mainly on the cutting room floor, though Coolidge has one of the best lines in the movie. Guest also pulls a shocking twist at the end, but it rings false because it was poorly executed. Perhaps the DVD will set things straight.
The Guest/Levy movies are a great Hollywood success story, the guys who started with no funding or real studio support, just a very talented group of friends and an unwavering belief in what they were doing. Three movies later, they're still making the same kind of movies, but now they're making money. "A Mighty Wind" may not slay 'em like "Guffman" and "Show" did because of the unhip nature of folk music, but it's just as worthy as its predecessors.