A MIGHTY WIND
Director: Christopher Guest
Cast: Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara, Bob Balaban, John Michael Higgins, Jane Lynch, Parker Posey, Larry Miller, Fred Willard
MPAA Rating: (for sex-related humor)
Running Time: 1:31
Release Date: 4/16/03 (limited); 5/9/03 (wide)
Review by Mark Dujsik
Director Christopher Guest took the overwhelming success of his role in Rob Reiner's hilarious mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap (about an aging heavy metal band) to direct a slightly less hilarious Waiting for Guffman (about the participants of a community theatre production) twelve years later. Next was the funny Best in Show (about dog show folk), and now we have A Mighty Wind (about folk singers), an occasionally amusing but decidedly unsuccessful foray into the genre. The movie has its moments and flashes of inspiration, but Guest and his cast have problems maintaining the level of believability. What made Spinal Tap, Guffman, and, to a lesser extent, Show funny was not the fact that we thought these were members of an actual band, actors, or eccentrics but that we could imagine these kind of people existing somewhere. The cast of characters in A Mighty Wind is expansive, and intimacy is lost here. The movie simply has too much on its plate, not only focusing on the musicians themselves but also promoters, public television executives, a failed television personality, and a slew of other people. Without a familiarity with its characters, the movie plays out more like what it is—a group of actors having lots of fun and trying for laughs—than what it pretends to be.
Irving Steinbloom, a highly influential and loved folk music promoter, has just passed on, and his son Jonathan (Bob Balaban) thinks the best tribute would be to set up a reunion performance of some his father's most famous and beloved acts. The lineup includes The Folksmen, a trio with nothing to do with Kingston. Separately, they are known as Jerry Palter (Michael McKean), Alan Barrows (Christopher Guest), and Mark Shubb (Harry Shearer). Also appearing are The New Main Street Singers, not to be confused with the original Main Street Singers. This band is the sellout of the bunch, playing a string of amusement parks and selling their one-outfit image to adoring fans even now. The leaders of the group are husband and wife Terry (John Michael Higgins) and Laurie Bohner (Jane Lynch), and it boasts the daughter of one the original band's members in Sissy Knox (Parker Posey). Rounding out the concert are Mitch & Mickey, specifically Mitch Cohen (Eugene Levy) and Mickey Crabbe (Catherine O'Hara). They were the love birds of the folk era, with one song that climaxed with an onstage kiss heard round the world, but now, after a bitter fight, the two are just seeing each other for the first time in years.
The structure of the movie has us transitioning from one group to the next as they rehearse for the upcoming concert and discuss their past and music. The cast, who improvises the dialogue based on a plot outline by Guest and Eugene Levy, has some funny bits as they give us the not-so-sordid details of the inner workings of the folk business, but it's surprising how very little of them are memorable. The music, not surprisingly, is by far the most successful element of the movie. The original music perfectly captures the plucky idealism and naïveté of its roots, and there's even a hearty helping of cheesy humor thrown in as well, especially in The Folksmen's big hit "Old Joe's Place," in which the sign out front is read verbatim—burnt out neon letters not included. What's strange, though, is that the two funniest characters are not in any of the bands. Bob Balaban's clueless but sincere Jonathan is endearing, and his monotonous introductions to each of the bands during the concert are a hoot. Then there's Fred Willard's Mike LaFontaine, a failed television personality and now man behind The New Main Street Singers. He has no place here, but it's hilarious to watch him brag about all the comic phrases he's supposedly coined.
A majority of the rest of the humor comes across forced, and a good part of that is because a lot of scenes seem too staged to pass as a fake documentary. Take a scene between Mitch and Mickey's new husband, a model train enthusiast, as they take a moment to admire his setup in the basement. Are they really that starved for jokes? There's also a dinner table scene which begs one to ask why cameras are there. The same goes for the scenes showing the bands rehearsing, mostly because nothing comes of them. Little moments, like a newspaper article about and picture of Mitch in the hospital, are too overblown and stick out of the faux reality that's attempted. Other scenes do fit but have potential that is never realized. A bit involving the house manager of the New York Town Hall is funny until he becomes frustrated enough to hit Jonathan upside the head, a punch line that betrays the setup. There's also a scene with the producer of public television who randomly begins to use Yiddish phrases near the end of the scene. It may have worked if the gag had been throughout, but it comes out of nowhere.The cast of A Mighty Wind fits into their roles well, except for Levy. He's amusing, but you can't help but notice how hard he's trying for laughs, chewing his words with a vocal intonation that sounds more like he's constipated than playing a character. Then again, so much else of the movie is equally strained, so maybe he fits into the material best.
Copyright © 2003 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.