A Mighty Wind (review)

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Mighty Good

If anyone knows about obsessed, I guess it’s me. And no, I don’t mean my obsession with Hugh Jackman. I mean this. For nearly six years I’ve been toiling away all on my lonesome in the basement of the Internet, painstakingly gluing together plastic models of film reviews, blowing my allowance on DVDs, refusing to get a real job, and all for nothing more than the fresh love and clean hate that pours back from my readers in response. Only an obsessive would keep it up for so long, and with no end in sight. It makes me think of Buzz Lightyear tsk-tsking over Woody the Cowboy that he is a “sad, strange little man.”

It’s cuz I’m such a dork myself, I think, that Christopher Guest’s movies always ring so true to me, for all that they’re sublimely, subtly silly — they’re about people so immersed in doing what they love that they have no idea how absurd they are (which doesn’t bode well for me, I know). Best in Show and Waiting for Guffman and even This Is Spinal Tap are full of sad, strange little people wrapped up in their passions, and Guest’s genius is that with each film, he and his wonderful improvisational cast further polish their observational comedy. Now, with A Mighty Wind, the humor is so razor fine that you don’t even feel it cutting you at first — what seems sorta plaintive and gentle on a scene-by-scene basis builds into something sharp and stinging and paradoxically triumphant, too.

In his usual mockumentary style, Guest — who directed and laid out the skeleton of a script with Eugene Levy — follows the behind-the-scenes production of a reunion concert of fading 60s folkies in honor of the legendary and recently deceased folk manager and producer Irving Steinbloom. And the usual gang is in attendance — Guest and Levy (Bringing Down the House), of course, and Michael McKean (The Guru, Teddy Bears’ Picnic) and Harry Shearer (EDtv) and Catherine O’Hara (The Nightmare Before Christmas, Home Alone) and Fred Willard (The Wedding Planner) — all people who make you long for some sort of Congressional act that would require their working together on a more regular basis, they’re so knowing and wicked and sweetly funny in ways that don’t rely on punchlines or pratfalls. The trio of the Folksmen (Guest, McKean, Shearer) reminisce about the idiosyncrasies of one of their former record labels and the duo of Mitch & Mickey (Levy, O’Hara) try to get past the fact that they haven’t spoken in thirty years and the “neuftet” of the New Main Street Singers (including John Michael Higgins, Jane Lynch, and Parker Posey) are kinda scary in their pastel costumes. And the concert comes together — thanks to, or perhaps in spite of, the ministrations of Steinbloom’s tone-deaf but devoted son (Bob Balaban: The Majestic, Gosford Park) — and all the actors do their own singing and playing of instruments like ukuleles and too many guitars and the songs really aren’t half bad and it’s all kinda mellow and amiable.

If it seems like Guest and Co. have pulled their punches a tad this time around, you might think it’s because Hey, who can honestly pick on folkies too much? These are all sort of very nice people with no genuine delusions about themselves, really, except that other people may enjoy their odd little tunes about old diners and train wrecks and characters named after vegetables. But it only seems like punches have been pulled. The faint ridiculousness of these folkie folks gets amplified here, and their earnestness and their friendliness and their quaintness comes into distinct relief, and what seems to be gentle fun-poking becomes, cumulatively, a pointedly perceptive lancing of how we cling so desperately to small victories and successes (even when they aren’t quite our own) to give our lives meaning while simultaneously celebrating the modesty of our dreams as a good thing, sometimes.

There’s no meanness in A Mighty Wind, mixed in with the obvious love of the objects of its satire, as could be said for Guest’s other films. But that shouldn’t be taken as a sign of softness or indicative of a lack of deliciousness. If we’re not quite laughing with the oddballs on parade here, to laugh at them comes pretty close to laughing at ourselves. Guest turns his mighty comedic bite back on us like he never has before, and as unlikely as it sounds, that’s mighty fine.

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