Reviewed by: Megan Basham
Starring: Christopher Guest, Eugene Levy, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, Bob Balaban | Directed by: Christopher Guest | Produced by: Karen Murphy | Written by: Christopher Guest, Eugene Levy | Distributor: Warner Brothers
Christopher Guest has done it again. Like his previous films of the same genre, “A Mighty Wind” lampoons the passions of a few of life’s strangely likeable outsiders. Only this time it isn’t small town theater troupes or dog show enthusiasts in the crosshairs, it’s a gaggle of has-been and never-were folk singers happy to have one last shot at the spotlight. Though Guest reigns in his famous biting humor for this particular parody, even without the teeth, the comedy still works.
The idea for “A Mighty Wind” grew from a Saturday Night Live skit Guest appeared in during the 1984-85 season when he was still a cast member. He and Second City alumnus, Eugene Levy, wrote the film, making sure to include all their usual crowd-pleasing suspects, namely Catherine O'Hara, Michael McKean, Parker Posey, Harry Shearer, Fred Willard and Jane Lynch.
Following the working model laid out in “Waiting for Guffman” and “Best in Show”, Guest and Levy simply outlined a series of plot points and characters, and then let their talented cast work a little improvisational magic. The results are astoundingly realistic yet hysterical.
The loosely constructed plot centers on a memorial concert for Irving Steinbloom, a legendary folk promoter. After his death, his obsessive-compulsive son makes it his mission to put on a concert worthy of his father’s life and legacy by booking pseudo-legendary acts like The Folksmen (McKean, Shearer, and Guest), The New Main Street Singers (Posey), and duo Mitch and Mickey (O'Hara and Levy). He also books New York’s famous town hall and enlists the Public Broadcasting Network to televise it.
The performances in this film sparkle and serve to remind the audience how sublime truly gifted comedic acting can be. Though Parker Posey doesn’t quite get her on-screen due, it’s easy to see how Guest might have had a hard time choosing from so much great material—one can only imagine what ended up on the cutting room floor. Best of all, the laughs never take the dreaded obvious turns. Upon meeting the squeaky-clean Main Street Singers, I squirmed a bit, fearful that the hopelessly out-of-touch, out-of-date Christian characters were about to be introduced. But to my absolute delight, the satire went in an entirely different direction (let’s just say a brand new, utterly ridiculous cult is born).
This is not to say that everything presented is appropriate for kids—Mitch overhears a couple having sex in a nearby room, and one male character decides he wants to be a woman—but the PG-13 rating does seem fair (remember, this means it’s probably not a good choice for children under 13). Plus, though the giggles don’t really start rolling until the second half, what the film loses in laughs, it makes up for with a kinder, gentler spirit. Unlike the previous Guest installments, the audience actually starts to care about these people and hopes they find their “kiss at the end of the rainbow,” to paraphrase a Mitch and Mickey tune.
Which brings us to the music. It’s a strange thing that the made-up songs heard here are light years more creative and intelligent than much of what comes out of the radio on any given pop station. The best of the bunch, “Never Did No Ramblin,” turns the notion of the restless, wandering hippie on its proverbial ear, setting the tone (no pun intended) for the entire film. If you’re sick of cheap sight gags and jokes your 12-year-old could see coming at least three or four miles away, you might give “A Mighty Wind” a chance.