A Mighty Wind

| May 6, 2003

I’m not sure if it’s the affection that guest and his crew have for folk singers and their music, or if it’s just the law of diminishing returns, but A Mighty Wind is neither as nasty nor as funny as Best In Show or Waiting For Guffman.
The cast is basically the same, from Michael McKean and Guest himself, to Catherine O’Hara and Eugene Levy and Fred Willard and Parker Posey and Bob Balaban. The actors are certainly familiar with Guest’s style, in that he favors improvisation over scripts and encourages riffing off the page, so inexperience isn’t the culprit. One wonders where the problem lies, whether it was a lack of detail in the sketchy script, or just a lack of inspiration and creativity on the part of the cast. The characters in this film are less fully realized than those in the previous two movies and that is a major liability here.
A Mighty Wind centers around a reunion of the “major” folk music acts that dominated the music scene for 2-3 years in the mid-to-late 60s. When the primary promoter behind the acts passes away, his son (Bob Balaban) arranges a tribute concert featuring a reunion of the old-fashioned, down-home Folksmen (Guest, McKean, Harry Shearer – a different kind of Spinal Tap), the new-fangled and cult-like Manic Street Preachers (featuring Parker Posey, John Michael Higgins, Jane Lynch and more), and the headliners, folk sweethearts, Mitch and Micki (Levy and O’Hara).
Mitch and Micki are the anchors of the reunion, and as a result, O’Hara and Levy take center stage. But they do little with it. O’Hara’s character is a middle-aged women reduced to pining about her old lover Mitch, and reminiscing about their glory days before their nasty breakup, after which Mitch went into serious depression and emerged a shell-shocked version of his old self. Their love went sour in much the same way the public’s affection for their treacly, insipid folk music did. But rather than focus on the absurd popularity of bass-picking bands singing about puppies in the parlor, Guest and his cast save their disdain for the uninformed, humorless individuals who never liked folk music and don’t understand it’s appeal.
The movie picks up a bit when Fred Willard, a scene-stealer in Best In Show, resurfaces as a showbiz hack managing the New Main Street Singers. He is chock full of idiotic ideas for publicity stunts, and every one of his appearances on screen drew the kind of pained laughter that defined the previous two efforts by Guest and his crew. This movie takes the high road and spends more time reminiscing about the slad days of folk music than it does poking fun at the participants. Somewhere along the line, Guest and his gang lost their nerve and coasted on the template they set forth some 20 years ago. I don’t think the well of mockumentaries has run dry, but this one certainly lacks some bite. As a result, this Mighty Wind barely manages to stir up a breeze.

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