The team that brought us the dog-show farce Best in Show and the small-town-puts-on-a-musical spoof Waiting for Guffman now turn their mockumentary eye on folk music. Not just folk music, but imagine if Down From the Mountain starred Peter, Paul, and Mary instead of the more indie-appreciated bluegrass and country artists. This is the music that many of us listened to when we were little, and makes us cringe now. Not yet retro enough to be cool, to say the least.
The loose plot involves a hastily-brought-together tribute concert; a reunion of 1960s folk musicians paying tribute to the recently deceased man who launched their careers. There are The Folksmen (say… that’s Spinal Tap!), a Kingston-Trio-esque group of ever-cheerful fellas. There’s The New Main Street Singers, that contain no original members (all but one are dead!), and are so squeaky-clean that Lawrence Welk woulda loved ’em. And then there is Mitch & Mickey (Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara), a crooning couple that shared a momentous kiss in concert when they were stars, that they have never been able to live down, even long after they broke up.
Writers (and actors) Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy mock the squeaky-clean folkies, but at the same time look upon them with affection. All the tunes, penned especially for the movie, could easily pass as the real thing, right down to the concert finale of “A Mighty Wind” (a dead-on parody of “This Land is Your Land”). You actually find yourself toe-tapping along, until you realize the lyrics are a bit off (“A mighty wind blows us all” goes the triumphant feel-good climax of the song).
There are many good jokes (the best goes hands-down to Jennifer Coolidge’s dim concert promoter, who got the longest bout of laughter from my screening audience… I’ll let you figure out which joke I’m talking about), and there is an overall sweet tone to the film. But the actors succeed at varying levels. I found Eugene Levy’s Mitch to be way over-the-top in his spaced-out-ex-hippie-ness that he bordered upon grating. Then in contrast, Catherine O’Hara’s Mickey was almost too-straight faced to garner even a few laughs. Faring the best are scenes-stealers with smaller roles, like the aforementioned Coolidge, the wild-eyed theater owner played by Michael Hitchcock, and the ex-porn star-cum-wholesome-folk-singer played by Jane Lynch. (Alas, Parker Posey is wasted in a too-small cameo.)
That said, there is a lot to enjoy about A Mighty Wind. It may not be as strong a film as its predecessors, but it does provide some solid chuckles. Though not really a rush-out-and-see-it film, I think this will have a solid shelf-life on DVD.