A Mighty Wind

Review by Adam Blair

Directed by Christopher Guest; written by Guest and Eugene Levy
With Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara, Harry Shearer, Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Parker Posey, Jennifer Coolidge, Bob Balaban, Ed Begley Jr., Larry Miller, Paul Dooley and Fred Willard

Rated PG-13; 87 minutes

There's a fine line between funny and nearly funny. Certain brands of comedy live and die on the slightest nuance, the tiniest inflection, the merest pause delivered by a skilled comedian. A Mighty Wind - the latest film from the Christopher Guest team that produced Waiting for Guffman and the sublime Best in Show - isn't bad, but it spends a little too much time on the "nearly funny" side of the line for my taste.

Not that I think every comedy has to be like a three-laughs-per-minute sitcom. Guest's directorial style is sly and subtle; he lets his characters verbally hang themselves, revealing their obsessions through slowly accumulating detail that, in the best of his films, gain a cumulative power. Even This is Spinal Tap (directed by Rob Reiner), the most guffaw-filled film in the "mockumentary" style, is probably funnier in the re-telling and quoting of catchphrases than it was at first viewing. Strangely enough, the same is true of any given episode of "Seinfeld." But I digress.

Wind uses a folk music reunion concert as its narrative springboard. Among the musicians/characters we meet are the Folksmen (Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer); the cult-like New Main Street Singers (including Parker Posey, Jane Lynch as an ex-porn star who has found religion in the Up-With-People-esque group, and John Michael Higgins as her quietly weird husband); and Mitch and Mickey (Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara). This final pairing is the most inspired of the bunch: Mitch and Mickey were a couple during their 1960s heyday, and following their breakup Mitch became a zoned-out basket case. As always, Levy's facial expressions are priceless - he could have easily been a silent movie comedian and been just as funny as he is with audio.

The amazing Catherine O'Hara, late of television's "Six Feet Under," (where she did a wicked caricature of a shrieking, needy, passive-aggressive Hollywood producer), plays a quieter character here, and she grounds her scenes with Levy whenever they threaten to drift off. Mickey still feels something for Mitch but she can't be quite sure what it is - love, admiration and exasperation play across O'Hara's features in equal measure. Their personal reunion is unexpectedly touching as well as amusing.

Overall, though, Guest and company have chosen a tough topic for a comedy. First of all, folk music is kind of like reality television - it's already a form of self-parody. Second, the film barely touches on folk music's role in the various protest movements of the 1960s. It might have been funnier if some of these old folkies had transformed into right-wing Republicans or were still true leftover hippies, but the political aspects are barely hinted at.

In fact, almost everything about Wind is a little too gentle and kind, and too inside-showbiz, to be really effective. There's some inter-group sniping but mainly we're treated to vaguely silly folks, talking at us in talking heads format, bringing us up to date on their lives since the folk music scene dried up. There isn't even the competition that sharpened the narrative interest in Best in Show, nor the escalating group dysfunction of This is Spinal Tap. Everybody in this movie is too damn agreeable.

The music - a range of pitch-perfect folk music parodies - almost saves the day, and the cast delivers them with gusto. This is one of the few films where you might do better to just buy the CD.

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