A Mighty Wind

4 stars


12th September 2004

"It's Spinal Tap with Folk music!" cried the reviews of Christopher Guest's latest improvised mockumentary, but to label it as Tap with mandolins is doing it an injustice. Sure, you'll find Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer combining to create lukewarm water once more, but in reality, A Mighty Wind is more like Best In Show with Cellos - take out the dogs, replace them with dulcimers and you'll get more of an idea of what to expect.

The death of Irvin Steinbloom, a major figure in the folk industry prompts a hastily knocked up memorial concert, and his son Jonathan (Bob Balaban) is tasked with reuniting the major acts from his record label to play one final gig in his honour. On the bill are The Folksmen (the Tap alumni, only older and less satanic), the New Main Street Singers (the new commercial face of folk, or "a toothpaste commercial" as Shearer's bassist helpfully dubs them) and the duo of Mitch and Mickey; a kind of Sonny and Cher of the folk world, played superbly by Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara who worked so well together in Guest's most recent canine-orientated effort. We follow each act as they're reacquainted with one another, albeit with varying results (Mickey has since married a train-obsessed 'bladder management' salesman, while Mitch has been busy being depressed for the past 25 years).

If you're expecting to see more Spinal Tap magic, then you might be a little disappointed. There's no classic scene up to the standards of the malfunctioning stage pods or the miniature Stonehenge monument, rather a fine line in acute character comedy from the usual Guest troupe. So, as well as the musicians, you have Ed Begley Jr's Swedish Jew as a public television producer, Jennifer Coolidge as a large-breasted PR consultant with a red fright wig and even scarier accent plus Michael Hitchcock as the accommodating town hall manager who simply refuses to cut back the 'ridiculous vines and dangerous apple blossoms' that could cause serious eye damage in the foyer.

There's nary a duff performance on show, but once again, the star of the show is Fred Willard who manages to half-inch the entire shebang from under everyone's noses. His failed comedian turned manager Mike LaFontaine, a shock of platinum blonde hair setting off a Hawaiian shirt, is an absolute riot in his few short scenes, suggesting wildly inappropriate stage costumes and cracking wince-inducing gags at the most inopportune moments. If you're not quoting such gems as 'hey, wha' happened?' before them film has ended, you're a more sensible man than I. You could argue that due to the large size of the cast, each performer isn't really given enough time to make a substantial impression, but with players like Willard, you can begrudge a few joke-free scenes.

What A Mighty Wind does have in common with its rock and roll forbearer is a fantastic soundtrack, full of songs penned by Guest and Levy (who, along with a large proportion of the cast play their own instruments and sing to boot). Folk music might not be your bag, but the painfully smiley songs performed by acts like the New Main Street Singers are as infectious as they are ridiculous. A particular favourite is the song found on one of the deleted scenes entitled 'Do What The Good Book Tells You To', a musical journey through the Bible with an important lesson to tell. If Spinal Tap made you want to learn the guitar and throw your rock horns up to the half-inflated Dark Lord, then A Mighty Wind might convince you to grow your hair long and learn how to play the piccolo. Or it might not. But it'll definitely plaster the same wide grin across your face.

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