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A Mighty Wind

One of the biggest jokes of all is pop folk music

By David Wilson

A Mighty Wind
Directed by Christopher Guest, starring Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Harry Shearer, Michael McKean and Parker Posey (Warner Brothers)

A Mighty Wind is that rare breed of comedy that gets better the second or even third time you watch it. At first glance, this spoof documentary about a reunion of folk music performers from the 1960s isn’t as rollicking as director and co-writer (with Eugene Levy) Christopher Guest’s earlier mockumentaries This Is Spinal Tap, Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show. But another look at it reveals comic subtleties that are no less rewarding.

The subtlest and biggest joke of all is folk music itself — or at least the glossy stuff passed off as folk music by commercial groups such as the Kingston Trio and the New Christy Minstrels during the folk-boom years of the early 1960s. Here it’s personified by eerily believable fictional groups with names like the Folksmen and the New Main Street Singers, and an ex-couple act called Mitch and Mickey, all reuniting in a memorial concert for a recently departed music industry tycoon. The original songs composed for the movie are remarkably authentic sounding, which only underscores the lack of authenticity in the music that was produced and packaged as “folk” for legions of reverent fans. As Guest and his ensemble of top-flight improv actors see it, “folk” was actually shtick, and the listening public was had. A lot of the laughs in this movie are about our own gullibility.

And a lot are about characters who are too close to reality for comfort. Eugene Levy is both alarming and hilarious as Mitch, a dazed and lovelorn relic who hasn’t quite figured out that the ’60s are over. As the son of the dead tycoon trying to organize the reunion show, Bob Balaban spoofs modern wound-too-tight people everywhere. And Harry Shearer, with his under-the-chin beard and deep furrowed brow, is all about the silliness of self-importance. Other secondary characters are simply over the top: the irresistible Jane Lynch as a former porn star turned new-age goddess; the manic Fred Willard as a seriously unfunny standup comic turned music promoter; and Ed Begley Jr. as a Swedish-born TV producer obsessed with the fact that he isn’t Jewish.

Like all of Guest’s mockumentaries, A Mighty Wind is relentlessly satirical yet never mean-spirited. Like the others, it’s ultimately about the flaws and disappointments in us all. Guest has made breezier comedies, but this is refreshing nevertheless. Give it a chance — or two.

Author's photo
David Wilson is the editor-publisher of The Observer.
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