More noise than signal

A Mighty Wind

This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site,

Christopher Guest will forever be known as part of the deranged group of geniuses that produced This Is Spinal Tap. This has perhaps overshadowed the rest of his career, and it does him a severe disservice. While his own directorial efforts have extended the spoof documentary format that made Spinal Tap such a revelation, they’ve pushed into more niche areas and as such made little impact on the mainstream. The mainstream doesn’t know what it’s missing, as the Crufts-esque parodies in Best In Show and the amateur theatrics of Waiting For Guffman prove to be some of the finest and perhaps subtlest character comedies to emerge from the U.S. in the last few decades.

That his latest movie, A Mighty Wind follows broadly the formats of the aforementioned movies then is a cause for celebration rather than pillorying. After the death of folk music producer Iving Steinbloom, his family decide the best tribute to a good father and a great man is to put on a show, a celebration of the fine folk music acts that Steinbloom made famous, if only briefly. This requires the reunions of several acts who had parted company, but they are all more than happy to sign on to honour Steinbloom.

As we’ve come to expect from guest, the characters are a bizarre, idiosyncratic bunch. Guest himself makes an appearance as one third of The Folksmen, alongside Harry Shearer and Michael McKean. The New Main Street Singers are the only group still performing regularly, albeit with an almost entirely different lineup headed by two people who worship colours and believe humans are manifestations of colour and vibration. Formost among the gathered artist are Mitch (Eugene Levy) and Mickey (Catherine O’Hara), the former sweethearts of the folk scene. After a rather messy break up, the pair haven’t spoken for around thirty years, during which time Mickey has married a model train enthusiast and Mitch has had a minor mental breakdown.

It’s the relationship between these two that provide something that has perhaps been missing from Guest’s movies, a heart to go along with the laughter. It’s a little difficult to call this a failing of his previous films, purely bacause they’re so damn funny, but there was always a sense that they were little more than a thin excuse to laugh it up at some hicks and no-marks that the actors have created. While that’s still present, in A Mighty Wind many of the characters are less obviously flawed and laughable and have to creat laughs from their character rather than the laugh being the character. The three Folksmen are perhaps the most well-balanced characters in a Guest comedy, the film’s last gasp visual gag aside.

With the strange vocal delivery and occassional bizarre line, it’s Levy’s Mitch that’s the most obvious ‘joke’ character, and it’s to Levy’s eternal credit that he doesn’t push the character all the way into laughable. It’s vital because of his unresolved love issues with Mickey, which lends him a tragic air that builds sympathy for a character that could easily descend into shallow caricature. It shows an emotional depth and maturity that’s been absent in Guest’s previous films. If you’ve been disappointed with Levy’s continual casting as ‘concerned father’ in more mainstream comedied, this is required viewing and reaffirms him as one of the finest comedy actors around.

The bottom line for A Mighty Wind is this – it’s funny. Anyone capable of paying attention for ninety minutes is going to enjoy this film immensely, unless they have a hearty hatred for folk music in general. It Christopher Guest’s most accomplished film although not his funniest, although not by much of a margin. As usual the dividends from having such a talented and diverse cast and allowing them the freedom to improvise wildly have proven great indeed, and it’s only some of the more ‘obvious’ jokes (such as Jennifer ‘Stifler’s Mom’ Coolidge’s empty headed P.R. agent) that stand out as being a shade crass in comparison with the more complete realisations of the other characters. Hardly enough to spoil the film, and indeed hardly worth commenting on. Worth seeing for the cover for Mitch’s solo ‘Cry For Help’ album alone.