WFTB Score: 16/20
The plot: Following the death of folk music impresario Irving Steinbloom, his family work to bring together the acts he made famous for a tribute concert in New York’s Town Hall. Trouble is, there are only two weeks to organise the concert and not all the acts are in the best of mental states to perform at the live, televised concert.
A Mighty Wind is Guest’s third documentary-style film, following on from Waiting For Guffman and Best in Show. All three films were created in the same fashion: Guest wrote the story together with co-star Eugene Levy, but all the dialogue is improvised by the actors. Although the overall effect here is not quite as successful as the grand-daddy of mockumentaries, This is Spinal Tap, this is arguably Guest’s best entry in the genre.
One reason for the success of the film is the familiarity of the cast with each other’s temperaments. The ensemble cast is headed up by Bob Balaban as nervous organiser Jonathan Steinbloom, but it is in the bands that the chemistry really shows: The Folksmen – Guest, Harry Shearer and Michael McKean – have the sort of rapport you would expect from their incarnation as Spinal Tap, but they do not play their characters as Tap grown old so much as what the rock band’s fathers would have been like. It is good to see them riffing off each other, in all senses of the word.
The (New) Main Street Singers, most notably John Michael Higgins, Jane Lynch and Parker Posey, are all good fun, but the stars of the show are unquestionably Mitch and Mickey. Their reunion provides the film with a strong emotional centre and some of the film’s best scenes; Levy’s spaced-out performance as Mitch is balanced superbly by Catherine O’Hara as world-weary Mickey, reliving an almost forgotten dream. In turn, she is balanced by Jim Piddock as dull husband and catheter salesman Leonard.
Mitch and Mickey’s story also provides an anchor to the film; although A Mighty Wind is consistently funny, the actors’ enthusiasm tips some of the gentle humour into silliness, whilst other jokes float by unnoticed. The best lines are delivered by Fred “Wha’ happened?” Willard (excellent as the New Main St Singers’ manager) and Ed Begley Jr as the Public Broadcast Network producer whose Yiddish is as good as his Swedish. Not all the performances work – Jennifer Coolidge makes do with a funny voice for laughs – and, as usual with Guest, the ‘What happened afterwards’ ending is hit-and-miss. Even here, though, I liked Shearer’s transformation from a bald, bearded bass player into a far more glamorous one.
Musically, Mitch and Mickey are given the most memorable tunes; but all the music, most evident in the concert itself, sounds like authentic folk, albeit with a comic leaning, and adds to the warmth of the film. To say that A Mighty Wind is a ‘nice’ film sounds patronising, but this is exactly what it is: an affectionate comedy with uplifting songs and, a bit of headboard-banging aside, nothing to alarm the children. No violence, no malice, just a love for gags and music. It may not change your life, but it will certainly brighten up a wet weekend – and have you humming for weeks.