A Mighty Wind Review
By Joe Lozito
Just for the Folk of it
The less said about "This is Spinal Tap" the better. Of course, I loved the perennial classic faux-rockumentary, but that's almost a given. Since that comic gem debuted almost twenty years ago, Christopher Guest (lead guitarist Nigel Tufnel in "Tap") has made a career out of the term mockumentary. While he typically finds easy targets (regional theater in "Waiting for Guffman", dog shows in "Best in Show") he rarely shows the affectation on display in "A Mighty Wind", his take on the folk boom of the late 60s.
"Guffman" was just a little too over-the-top for me. The characters were caricatures to such an outrageous degree that there was no one to care for in the film. "Best in Show" toned it down a little and concentrated on its easy target: dog shows. That film was funny - thanks largely to the always-on Fred Willard (he's great in "Wind" too) - more because of its characters, not at their expense. Filmed half as a documentary, half as regular movie, "Wind" may mark a turning point in Mr. Guest's career. Instead of easy jokes and caricatures, Mr. Guest and co-writer Eugene Levy craft an interesting story of a reunion concert of three legendary (and fictitious, of course) folk combos. Their fondness for their subject is obvious and it works to create a more mature film with some actual emotional impact that lasts after the credits roll.
Mr. Levy and Catherine O'Hara give the film more weight than anything in Mr. Guest's film canon as the John and Oko of the Folk world. As Mickey and Mitch, whose hit song "A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow" features a legendary on-stage kiss between the performers, Mr. Levy and Ms. O'Hara give sincere and touching performances that raise the film above the average satire and into almost a romantic comedy. Ms. O'Hara's slate blue eyes gaze at the camera as if everything she's seeing through the memories of her musical past. Mr. Levy's Mitch is some strange amalgam of John Lennon and Jerry Garcia. He speaks haltingly as though his mouth is surprised by the words his brain is stringing together, but when he looks at Mickey and when they sing together, there's a hint that it all might be an act to hide his lingering feelings of regret for letting her go.
Of course, there are still moments of the old 'Spinal Tap"-style humor in the film, particularly from the ex-Tappers themselves (Michael McKean, Harry Shearer and Mr. Guest) who are like the three guys at reunion who are still single and living at home. They're not growing with the rest of the troupe, but it's nice to have them around. Their trademark lyrics abound in some of the folky "hits" in the film. A classic example is featured at the end of the title track, which could easily be an old folk standard: "It's blowin' peace and freedom/it's blowin' equality/it's blowin' peace and freedom/it's blowin' you and me." Now that's some good parody.