A Mighty Wind


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A Mighty Wind
The Masked Reviewer

Hang on to your hats!  A Mighty Wind is blowin'!  That's not to say that this movie blows, but rather it's a hurricane of comedy!  A tornado of laughs!  A whirlwind of hilarity!  A stiff breeze of chuckles? 

Okay, the Masked Reviewer isn't too good with overly enthusiastic pull-quotes.  But that's not to say it sucks. 

Christopher Guest directs this "mockumentary" about a folk music concert.  For those of you who don't recognize the name right away, Guest directed and starred in Best In Show and Waiting for Guffman, and starred in This Is Spinal Tap and The Princess Bride (as Count Tyrone Rugen...the man with six fingers.  You don't get to be the Masked Reviewer without knowing a thing or two).

Guest stars along with Spinal Tap alumni Harry Shearer ("Simpsons"'s Principal Skinner) and Michael McKean ("Laverne and Shirley"'s Lenny, of Lenny and Squiggy).  The trio comprise the musical group The Folksmen in this film, and bring to that genre what Spinal Tap brought to the world of rock and roll.  Or should it be "mock and roll"?  Or "mock and mole"?  No, rock and roll was right.

It's hard to describe this film.  Well, actually, it's a comedy, so I guess it wasn't that hard.  But what kind of comedy?  The Masked Reviewer likes the term "mockumentary" because it sounds clever.  Guest creates a documentary feel in his film, then squeezes out the ludicrousness from the situations like whey from curds.  A Mighty Wind swings a bit wider at times than his other films, occasionally going outside the subtle charm of the folk music world.  Examples of this include a silly religious ceremony with goofy hats, a scene where the big laugh comes from a wannabe performer singing out of tune, and a character named "Boehner."  A critic seated next to the Masked Reviewer didn't appreciate the humor in the film until he saw "Boehner" pop-up in a subtitle, and laughed as he blurted out "Ha!  Boner!"  There's always an audience for jokes about penises, though the Masked Reviewer can't seem to get a grip on it.

The subtle and rich world Guest always seems able to create and tap into may be too subtle for a lot of audiences.  While there are many not-so-subtle gags throughout the film, there is a humorous charm  film which pervades A Mighty Wind  that will either draw you in or drag you along kicking and yawning.  It's not as harsh in its satire as Guest's other films, possibly because the subject matter is benign and bland, like a Pop Tart without filling or icing.  Even without the satiric bite of his other films, it has its funny moments.

Fans of Best In Show and Waiting for Guffman will enjoy this film.  Fans of folk music (the most sought after demographic in Hollywood next to Chinese lesbian podiatrists) will also enjoy the film, even though it makes fun of the folk music world.  It's never mean spirited, though, and perhaps the biggest fault with the film is that it holds the folk music world in too much reverence.  At times, one might think the filmmakers were actually encouraging viewers to not ridicule folk music.  Crazy.

Fans of Spinal Tap will probably enjoy this film.  However, even though it's done well, the topic of folk music may entice fewer people than rock and roll.  The topic of lima beans would entice more people than folk music.  And more people like lima beans than folk music.  But until Christopher Guest and his gang make a movie about lima beans, A Mighty Wind is a good choice.

The Masked Reviewer was fortunate enough to see Spinal Tap perform in New York a few years ago.  Their opening act was The Woodsmen, the trio that Guest, McKean, and Shearer play in A Mighty Wind.  You don't often see a group open for itself, in completely different costume, playing a completely different style, but they were excellent.  They performed the same "hits" as they do in this film, which are very catchy indeed.  Sadly lacking from the film (but available on the Mighty Wind soundtrack) is The Woodsmen's version of "Start Me Up".

The music is surprisingly good.  Guest, McKean, and Shearer play the style perfectly and well enough to be enjoyable -- how many folk musicians can claim that?  Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara (as Mitch & Mickey) also sing surprisingly satisfactorily.

While the film features a rather large ensemble cast, everyone does a great job.  In addition to Guest, Shearer, and McKean, Eugene Levy is great.  He adopts an accent and speech pattern that can best be compared to that of Max Wright, the father from "Alf."  Catherine O'Hara is also great.  Fans of Fred Willard will love his work in this one.  By the way, there aren't nearly enough fans of Fred Willard...checkout "Fernwood 2Night" the next time it's on TV.  You can skip "Real People".  Bob Balaban has a couple of brilliant scenes that anyone who has been micromanaged will love.  And, finally, even Ed Begley Jr. turned out a good performance.  Do you think Begley has to beg to get a lay?  Well, he won't after this film.

If you don't know Christopher Guest's prior work and are expecting a comedy like Airplane, you're not going to find it in A Mighty Wind.  It won't be everyone's cup of tea...some people need their comedy spoon fed to them, and this is a self-serve buffet.  You don't have to love or even like folk music to enjoy the film (only one song is sung all the way through).  The charm of the film has to build and wash over you.  There aren't too many lines you can pull out of the film, but in context there are some good ones.  It's worth checking out to see what the hubbub is about.  If you already know Christopher Guest, go see it, you'll probably like it.

Finally, this is a must see for autoharpists.  While not featured prominently, an autoharp does get a bit of screen time, and as fans of the autoharp can attest, the autoharp has traditionally been more of a "behind the scenes" instrument in Hollywood.  For more information about autoharps, go to your local public library, or consult the following websites:

The Autoharp Page

The Autoharp WebRing

Expectation from the Title: Prequel to Twister, or a movie with a lot of fart jokes.  Maybe both.

Mother's Rule (Always Say Something Good About Everything): It helps to fill the void left by the Kingston Trio.

The Pros: Funny moments, good musicianship, a charming experience.

The Cons: No violence or nudity.  Its subtlety will elude some people.

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