A Mighty Wind

April, 2003, Comedy

Directed by:Christopher Guest

Starring:Bob Balaban, Catherine O'Hara, Eugene Levy, Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, John Michael Higgins, Jane Lynch, Parker Posey, Fred Willard, and Deborah Theaker

A Mighty Wind

Christopher Guest and his resident band of loonies here create yet a third look at one of our contemporary culture's institutions, (after their exploration of regional theater--"Waiting For Guffman"-- and dog shows --"Best Of Breed"). This trilogy has to rank as some of the most consistently original American humor of the past few decades, and if this effort doesn't quite match the caliber of the previous two, it's still worth seeing, especially if you enjoy, as I do, Guest's ability to gently mock what he so obviously cares about. 

Like his two earlier works, Guest builds this movie around a culminating performance, and the work that goes into putting it on. Here it's the folk music fad of half a century ago, revisited in a Carnegie hall-type memorial to a deceased folk music impresario that hopes to bring together three once-famous groups now well past the height of their popularity. Many are now short of hair and long of tooth; one group retains a single founding member, substituting younger smiley faces for the rest--but all feel that a return to the spotlight, if only for a single evening, will confirm their belief that they've never really gone out of style….

Along the rocky road to the big night, we're treated to a wonderful commentary on PBS and its use of outdated pop music as a fund-raising tool, slick parodies of The New Christy minstrels, The Kingston Trio, Peter, Paul & Mary, (complete with lyrics as vapidly sunny as those of the originals) and my favorite, an imaginary riff on what might have happened to a pair of Bob Dylan and Joan Baez types if they existed only in Guest and co-writer Eugene Levy's fevered imaginations. 

Too much time is spent on the impresario's dysfunctional family, and the plot doesn't provide the three groups much interaction, which forces the movie to become a series of sketches rather than a story with genuine flow; but Guest & Levy have their own beautifully off-kilter performances matched and often exceeded by the same cast in the two earlier films, and this group's ability to do long monologues that begin in perfect sanity and end in inspired but oblivious lunacy hasn't lost a bit of its deranged charm. These people are just like those of us in audience and our friends, only more so; one of the delights of Guest's oeuvre lies in running a kind of mental trap-line among your own acquaintances and finding the parallel universe Guest and Company inhabit isn't so far removed from one's own…who else can bring a catheter salesman, an ex-porno queen and new age mysticism together with a straight face?

"Wind" may be the weakest of the three, but it's still the best set of laughs currently available for under a sawbuck.    

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