In "A Mighty Wind" Christopher Guest and his band of merry pranksters are out to conduct an experiment: can you make comedy so dry that it virtually evaporates on contact?
Not everyone likes his or her comedy dry. I do. I have always considered Christopher Guest a welcome shot of vermouth in an otherwise beer-soaked comedy world. And he has populated his latest mockumentary with some of the sharpest comedic actors in the business. From the moment I saw the poster for "A Mighty Wind" -- a spot-on parody of folk music's hootenanny heyday of the 60s -- I was frothing in anticipation. I left the film wondering whether Guest had betrayed my good will or if I had simply failed to fine tune my comedy radar. But I missed something in "A Mighty Wind." Unfortunately it was the part where I laughed a lot.
Perhaps this is a four-part experiment, going back to "Spinal Tap" the seminal mocumentary directed by Rob Reiner but largely improvised by Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer. Though many, including myself, rank it as among the funniest films ever made, it had trouble at the box office because some people just didnít get the difference between a mock heavy metal band and the real thing. Of course that was the devastating beauty of it. Guest took the mockumentary helm on "Waiting For Guffman" which shrunk things down to a small town historical pageant and deftly earned its own cult status. He followed that with "Best of Show," a send-up of kennel club obsessives that wasn't as funny but was certainly better than a kick in the head. And now with "A Mighty Wind" there is the whiff of a formula that is losing its potency.
One problem could be Christopher Guests' generosity. After the initial thrill of seeing Guest, McKean and Shearer reunited as a Kingston Trio knockoff called "The Folksmen" the three are given remarkably little to do. Guest shows off a perfect reedy tremolo, but itís a good Peter, Paul and Mary imitation and nothing more. Everyone else in the troupe is given his or her moment, but that's an awful lot of people. Just as Parker Posey or Paul Dooley or Larry Miller inhabits a great new character, they all but disappear for the rest of the film. The people who do best with their moments are the ones who take it over the top, including Jennifer Coolidge's unexplained dingbat, Jane Lynch's porn star turned perky troubadour, Fred Willard's wildly inappropriate talent manager, and Eugene Levy's stammering mental casualty of the 1960s. Co-writer Levy and the always brilliant Catherine OíHara come closest to a storyline as wounded former lovebirds Mitch & Mickey who reluctantly reunite for a memorial concert. For a brief moment they make the film genuinely sweet and touching.
Yet as martini dry as "A Mighty Wind" is, it is not beyond naming characters Mr. and Mrs. Bohner, whacking someone on the head, or putting Harry Shearer in a dress. With all the assembled talent, sometimes the film seems downright lazy, as if whimsical improvs and mimicking archetypes were enough to carry the day. But one thing I have learned from Christopher Guest films is that they tend to be funnier on second viewing. So Iím still holding out hope for "A Mighty Wind." But until further notice, Iím still mighty disappointed.
© 2003 - Casey McCabe - Air Date: 4/03
A Mighty Wind
US - 2003