A Mighty Wind
2003, PG-13, 91 min. Directed by Christopher Guest. Starring Eugene Levy, Michael McKean, Catherine O’Hara, Harry Shearer, Fred Willard, Bob Balaban, Ed Begley Jr., Parker Posey.
REVIEWED By Marrit Ingman, Fri., May 9, 2003
Master mockumentarian Guest’s latest effort doesn’t exactly skewer its subject, the sometimes precious, frequently fatuous world of 1960s-era folk music. A Mighty Wind is more like a gentle poke in the ribs. Not that it’s a problem, necessarily. The film is gentle and cheery and laugh-out-loud funny at times, particularly when frequent Guest collaborator Willard steals the show as a cheeseball music manager who keeps throwing out the trademark catchphrase ("Hey, wha’ happened?") from his days as a television comic. Like previous efforts from Guest and company, Wind is dead-on, lampooning gee-whiz minstrel singers ("Ramblin’ Sandy Pitnik and the Main Street Singers"), gasbag critics (a performance by moony-eyed folk duo Mickey and Mitch is "maybe a great moment in the history of humans"), and other daffy showbiz types. But unlike Best in Show or even Waiting for Guffman, the film doesn’t have much of a satirical bite. Even the most tin-eared singers and venal promoters seem like lovable oddballs by the end. This is probably due in part to the film’s origins as a decades-old Saturday Night Live skit; it just feels more minor, less memorable than the earlier films. Just the same, it’s a cute diversion, and the ensemble cast, which was allowed to improvise freely, is typically delightful. As mousy Manhattanite Irving Steinbloom (Balaban) assembles an all-star lineup for a public-television tribute show honoring his late folkie father, the production teeters close to the edge of collapse. Reunited trio the Folksmen reminisce about their salad days (when they where on shoestring label Folk Tone, which neglected to put a hole in their records) and risk being upstaged by the grotesquely wholesome New Main Street Singers, who wear cable-knit sweaters and worship the psychic energy emanating from "materialized color." Meanwhile, headliners Mickey (O’Hara) and Mitch (Levy, in Wavy Gravy hairpiece) must overcome their past: specifically, his mental collapse, which has left him walleyed and bitter. The rest of the pitch-perfect cast plays off one another gracefully, from Posey (as a superanimated singer) to Begley, a Nordic TV exec who peppers his pitches with fakakta Yiddishisms. There’s much to enjoy, even if the funny bits don’t add up to Spinal Tap greatness. And the titular anthem, performed in a star-studded closing jamboree, has a wickedly funny payoff. (See related interview at austinchronicle.com/screens.)