"Is there anyone here who doesn’t think folk singing is funny?" asked Jason Silverman in his introduction to A Mighty Wind at the 2003 Taos Talking Picture Festival. "If so, you better leave now," the Festival’s artistic director advised. Everyone stayed – and had a great time watching Christopher Guest’s latest mockumentary.
Personally, I couldn’t stop laughing and tapping my feet throughout most of this film. Merely looking at the various actors Guest uses in his movies always makes me chuckle, and the comic energy they bring to their quirky characters causes uncontrollable guffawing on my part while watching them perform.
Happily, Guest and his gang from Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show come together again here – with most of them singing surprisingly well. Catherine O’Hara, Michael McKean, Parker Posey, Eugene Levy, Jane Lynch, John Michael Higgins, and Guest himself portray folksingers from the 1960s who reunite for a memorial concert. Bob Balaban plays a tone-deaf man arranging the concert in order to honor his recently deceased father, and Fred Willard appears as an obnoxious manager handling one of the folk groups. Harry Shearer (from This Is Spinal Tap) fits right into the mix as a member of Guest’s trio, The Folksmen.
Why did Guest choose the world of folk music as a movie project? "I wanted to do a film with music," he explains. "And I played a lot of folk music when I was a kid. Growing up, there was an explosion of folk music in my New York neighborhood. So Eugene Levy and I started to work on a story that would encompass a number of different folk groups that had started in the Sixties and were making a comeback in the form of this reunion at Town Hall, and it took off from there."
Take off it did. Here’s a run-down of the amusing folk groups lined up for that special reunion concert in A Mighty Wind:
1. Mitch & Mickey (Levy and O’Hara), who were once in love with each other and always kissed during their most popular romantic number. Now estranged, will they be able to let bygones be bygones and kiss again for the cheering audience?
2. The Folksmen (Guest, McKean, and Shearer), a trio with records people could enjoy if they punched holes in the middle of them (the records, not the musicians).
3. The New Main Street Singers (Higgins, Lynch, and Posey), the most peppy color-coordinated singing group since "Up with People."
Because I’m such a big fan of Guest’s work, I feel reluctant to criticize it. His Waiting for Guffman ranks as my all-time favorite comedy. Still, I think Levy’s slow-talking "Mitch" character drags down A Mighty Wind in too many scenes. He’s funny at first, but annoying the rest of the time. Thankfully, everyone else rises to the occasion with hilarious results.
Gotta go now and look for my old Kingston Trio records.
(Released by Warner Bros. and rated "PG-13" for sex-related humor.)