Published on January 16th, 2004 | by Jay Richardson0
A Mighty Wind
Cast: Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara, Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, Bob Balaban, Jane Lynch, John Michael Higgins, Parker Posey, Fred Willard
A film you’ll yearn to love, A Mighty Wind amuses whilst never being quite as good as Spinal Tap devotees will desperately want it to be. As he did for am-dram in Waiting for Guffman and dog breeding with Best in Show, Christopher Guest once again demonstrates his mastery of mockumentary. But whilst there are some genuinely hilarious moments here, A Mighty Wind is an affectionate and frustratingly toothless send-up of American folk music, gentler and less gleefully ridiculous than Tap.
Having outlined a script with American Pie’s Eugene Levy, Guest assembled many of his usual acting cadre to improvise this story of three 60’s folk bands returning from obscurity for a tribute concert. After shooting hundreds of hours of footage, the director has whittled the results down to two main sections: the bands’ reunions and the concert itself.
Brought together by promoter Jonathan Steinbloom (Bob Balaban) to commemorate his recently deceased folk agent father, the three acts are the shiny, happy Main Street Singers, an eight-strong ensemble featuring just one of the original 60s line-up, plus perma-grinning Sissy Knox (Parker Posey) and married suburban freaks Laurie and Terry Bohner (Jane Lynch and John Michael Higgins); the Folksmen (Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer, aka Spinal Tap), a bunch of one-hit, washed-up journeymen who may yet have another on their hands with a song about the Spanish Civil War; and at the heart of the film, Mitch and Mickey (Levy and Catherine O’Hara), a kind of folksy Sonny and Cher whose split as a couple sent the former doolally, but who may yet reunite with the kiss that featured in their most famous song.
So what’s wrong with it? Not a lot. The cast and characters are almost universally excellent, particularly Fred Willard as a crass TV producer-cum-svengali for the Main Street Singers, and Lynch and Higgins as the band’s dysfunctional leaders. And the songs, which the actors wrote and performed themselves live, are right on the dime. The mighty wind in question for example, is “Blowin’ peace and freedom / It’s blowin’ you and me”. But the film feels underplayed, like crueller laughs have been reined in. Of the Folksmen, only the deep-throated Harry Shearer really gets an opportunity to shine, whilst Levy’s turn as the mentally unhinged Mitch isn’t pathetic or funny enough to justify hinging the film on his relationship with Mickey. Perhaps, like all of Guests’ work, A Mighty Wind will improve with repeat viewings, but for now this feels like a missed opportunity.