When I hear a film described for the first time as a mockumentary from Christopher Guest I can’t help but get excited. Guest has defined the satirical genre with Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show alongside This is Spinal Tap in which he starred and co-wrote. His latest, A Mighty Wind is much in the same vein as Spinal Tap, except this time it’s for the kids who grew up on the likes of Bob Dylan and Simon and Garfunkel and anyone else who simply likes to laugh.
I have to be in just the right mood to watch a Guest mockumentary. With my TV dying the other night, a couple of little things around the house committing the suicide jump from their place on the shelf and my two-month-old computer making frightening grinding noises, I figured there was no time like the present to see A Mighty Wind. As I’d grown accustomed to with Waiting for Guffman, the humor is subtle and could fly right over your head if you’re not looking for it. All it takes is a slight shift to the right of Eugene Levy’s brow, a small prop movement or a line in a song and you’re either laughing or your reaching for a handful of popcorn that’s way too salty and missing it.
The plot revolves around a group of aging folkies reuniting for one last memorial concert. There’s the Folksmen, a gruff trio that would be a barbershop quartet except they’re only three. The New Main Street Singers are a neuftet (that’s the word they use themselves to say nine) of chipper Mickey Mouse Club-types singing about moral virtue and the like. Finally there’s Mitch (Eugene Levy) and Mickey (Catherine O’Hara), two sweethearts who once upon a time swooned beautiful music together. But that was a long time ago. Now Mitch is so spaced out all the time I wanted to see what sort of pharmacy he had hiding in his medicine cabinet.
The first two-thirds of A Mighty Wind are spent on characters reminiscing and rehashing old stories. There’s the odd ‘video clip’ here and there but on a whole it’s done entirely through dialogue. These look backs were the highlight of the movie for me as they showed just how important basic storytelling goes a long way. Everyone draws a picture of the past with words. Like a good book, their descriptions send you back to a bygone time and place where, to them, everything was innocent and perfect. When the simple storytelling ends and the present-day reunions take over, things feel a little more awkward than they should be. The warm ups to the concert and the big event itself do not have the energy of the stories we hear about the good ole’ days. Instead Mitch’s constantly shifting brow threatens to hypnotize anyone who stares at it for more than 3.5 seconds.
Still, if you sit and listen for the subtlety, A Mighty Wind delivers. The lyrics in particular are great. They hook you with acceptable music that gets the toes a tappin’. But don’t get distracted. Hold that foot down if you must. Contain it and listen. Some of the lines will grab you out of nowhere, particularly those of the Folksmen.
A Mighty Wind looks like it wasn’t a big challenge for Guest and his ensemble cast of mockumentary regulars. It’s not much of an extension in tone from Waiting for Guffman or Best in Show. But if this is what Guest and company can accomplish on cruise control all the power to them.
A Mighty Wind Gallery