A Mighty Wind Review
By Shawn McKenzie 04/16/2003
Typically when you keep making the same type of movie over and over, it can get tedious. That is not the case with Christopher Guest. A Mighty Wind marks the fourth time he has been involved in a “mockumentary,” following This is Spinal Tap, directed by Rob Reiner, and his own two directorial efforts, Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show. Though he has directed other types of comedies, including the Kevin Bacon movie The Big Picture and Chris Farley’s last movie Almost Heroes, he seems to be making only the improvisational mockumentaries now. I don’t really mind, because, as they say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Legendary folk music icon Irving Steinbloom (Stuart Luce) has recently passed away, and his middle-aged son, Jonathan (Bob Balaban), wants to put on a tribute concert performance in his memory. He only has a two week time period in which to get the concert going, because that is the only time that the New York Town Hall, the concert hall in which he has booked, is available. He tries to gather some of the more successful groups that worked with his father for the concert. The Folksman, consisting of Mark Shubb (Harry Shearer), Jerry Palter (Michael McKean), and Alan Barrows (Guest) are the first to agree. The group started out as the Twobadours, consisting of Mark and Alan, until Jerry joined the group, forcing the name change. Mitch Cohen (Eugene Levy) and Mickey Crabbe (Catherine O’Hara), who went by the stage name “Mitch & Mickey,” take a little longer, but eventually agree to appear as well. Their trademark bit was to kiss each other at one point near the end of their hit, “A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow.” They were married and in love in the beginning, but they ultimately broke up, and Mitch became mentally ill soon after. Mickey went on to marry Leonard Crabbe (Jim Piddock), a man who has a weird obsession with trains. Finally, the most commercial and ever-evolving New Main Street Singers, including members Laurie (Jane Lynch) and Terry Bohner (John Michael Higgins), Sissy Knox (Parker Posey), and others, also agree to do the concert. Founder George Menschell (Paul Dooley) originally formed the group as the Main Street Singers. They released thirty albums before breaking up. The new version of the group started when George met manager and former sitcom star Mike LaFontaine (Fred Willard) at a comedy club and they formed a partnership. Mike used to star in a failed TV show called “Wha’ Happened” and still likes to use the catchphrases from the show that he assumed became a part of popular culture. George gave over the reins of leading the group to the Bohners. Laurie was a former porn actress who became a folk singer after meeting Terry. Together, they belong to a wicca religion that worships colors called W.I.N.C. (Witches In Nature’s Colors.) Sissy was a depressed kid on the streets before joining the group and became its perkiest member. After securing the Town Hall, Jonathan strikes up a deal with public TV producer Lars Olfen (Ed Begley, Jr.) to televise the event on PBN (Public Broadcasting Network.) Lars is a huge fan of Swedish folk music and jumped at the chance to produce the event. Jonathan assigns public relations managers Wally Fenton (Larry Miller) and Amber Cole (Jennifer Coolidge) of the Zipken Group to handle the publicity, a task they seem to have a hard time doing. The man who runs the Town Hall, Lawrence E. Turpin (Michael Hitchcock), goes crazy trying to deal with Jonathan’s numerous demands, especially since the venue typically only hosts classical music performances. Jonathan sees this as not only a way to honor his father, but as a way to reconnect with his estranged siblings, Elliot (Don Lake) and Naomi (Deborah Theaker), who weren’t as into folk music as Jonathan. As they all prepare for the big show, they individually start to see how their lives went and how they might want them to continue in the future.
I think the reason I don’t mind seeing the same type of movies again and again from Guest is because they are all so funny. I could go even further by saying that this movie is just the folk music version of the heavy metal film This is Spinal Tap, only Tap focused mainly on the group, and this movie explores the genre of folk music. It’s the little things about these movies that make them so hilarious. The Folksmen say that the reason their albums declined in sales is because the record company stopped putting the hole in the middle of their records. Coolidge’s clueless PR character has an accent that is so odd that you can’t help but laugh. I also cracked up whenever Begley, Jr. would insert Yiddish phrases in his interviews and Willard would try to throw in another “popular” catchphrase. The lyrics of some of the songs are so goofy that they take me back to my childhood, when my mom would play records by the Limelighters and the Kingston Trio.
The music may actually be the film’s one fault. Unless you are old enough to remember the heydays of ‘60s folk groups like the New Christy Minstrels and Peter, Paul & Mary, or you grew up listening to them as I did, you might not understand what exactly the movie is satirizing. It’s ironic that they reference the older-skewing demographics of the fictional PBN network, because the appeal of folk music, or at least the corny hootenanny style of folk music (as opposed to the serious style of Bob Dylan or Woody Guthrie), skews older and will probably never make a comeback. I have a feeling that younger crowds might not understand many references in the movie.
Despite the obscurity of the music, A Mighty Wind will still make most people chuckle when they see it. I also don’t mind seeing yet another mockumentary, and I welcome Guest to make it his lifelong shtick, as long as the wittiness continues. It would be nice to see Tap’s Marty DiBergi again though.
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