A Mighty Wind Blows Away The Folk Scene--With Wit
Rob Levy
5/15/2003 10:17:38 AM

Christopher Guest has taken on many aspects of fringe society in his films. Waiting For Guffman, nailed the weird community theater circuit, Best In Show de-pretensed the dog show community, and now we see A Mighty Wind, his take on the uber-pretentious folk movement.

A Mighty Wind, centers around reunions, unachieved fame and relationships. The focus of the film centers around Irving Steinbloom, a legend in the folk music industry. His passing leaves his family with choices as to how to best remember his legacy. They do this by holding a reunion show at the revered folk venue, The Town Hall. The tricky bit is getting all the parties on board. This is the background for a very witty film.

We meet three sets of weirded-out folkies here. There are "The Folksmen," played by Guest, Mike Mckean and Harry Shearer. The Folksmen are traditionist folk musicians who constantly banter about their craft and take their music much too seriously. Oh, and they really want more than their one hit has given them.

Then we meet the New Main Street Singers, led my John Michael Higgins, Jane Lynch and Parker Posey. They are representative of the new, cliched, clean contemporary folk movement. Introduced as musicians first, they are quite disturbing after the surface is peeled away.

Lastly we have the dynamic duo of folk, Mitch & Mickey, played by SCTV vets Eugene Levy and Catherine O' Hara. They are the Sonny & Cher of folk music --and always in a state of melancholy.

In true Guest fashion, this mockumentary features some wonderful improvisational comedy. In fact, his troupe has gotten so good at it, you can hardly tell they're
shooting from the hip. We see these artists remember the 'scene.' We see them banter on painfully about their craft. We see them get ready for their big show. All aspects of this reunion are shown to us in such a way we think it is real, or, at least, scripted. The improv
is seamless.

Mockumentaries are fun because they give us pause to laugh at the absurd. However Guest's mockumentaries always challenge the absurd, while creating really tender and sweet characters.

Causality dictates that we will laugh heartily, and we do. Some of the best moments involve Fred Willard as a promoter, and Mike LaFontaine, expounding on his moments of fame. He steals the show with his quick wit, wild clothes and all-around zeal for being a character. We also get the brilliant Larry Miller talking about how he promotes folk music. His character is insanely stupid. Miller gives him charm.

But the best comedy in the film centers around the interplay of the 'i'm too serious and thus hilarious' Bob Balaban and the always-lively and fun, Michael Hitchcock. Hitchcock, of MAD TV fame, plays Lawrence Turpin, the stage manager of the Town Hall. His clashes with Balaban's anal retentive and tone-deaf Jonathan Steinbloom are very funny.

There is so much tension to drive the film. Will Mitch & Mickey get along? They have not worked together in years. We learn that Mitch went off the rails years ago and is now in a state of Garcia-esque zen catatonia.

The New Main Street Singers are creepy. Parker Posey's role is more reduced here, but her turn as the too-perky, folky Sissy Knox is hilarious. Lynch and Higgins play it up as the new-agey, folk couple who have their own religion based on color. They lead this neuftet into silliness and bright colored folk fame. Will this concert make them more famous?

And then there are The Folksmen. They want to be famous so bad you can taste it. They have great discussions on their 'art,' their clothing, and the importance of their work. They are flawed and tragic.

Ever since This Is Spinal Tap, people have been aware of Christopher Guest's penchant for mock-documentaries. The same can be said for his constant exploitation of weird passions--blowing them up larger-than-life on the screen. He creates funny situations and really funny movies. Guest skillfully manages to create really odd charaters and mesh them with veteran sketch comedy actors. And with A Mighty Wind, the hodge podge of improv really works. A Mighty Wind blows away everything that has ever been too serious about musicians and folk music. If there is such a thing as truth and fairness, these shots at pretention and the hopes and dreams of those who want fame, should propel Wind to great heights at the box office.


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