Shiny Shelf

A Mighty Wind

By Iain Hepburn on 20 February 2004

It’s an enduring testimony to the legacy of ‘This Is Spinal Tap’ that even today the film, and its titular rock act, still get referenced and riffed upon everywhere from ‘The Simpsons’ to highbrow academia. The work of careful, clever and determined filmmakers, from the cast upwards, to produce a spoof more realistic than the source itself – look no further than The Darkness for proof of its success – ‘Tap’ simultaneously resurrected and buried the credibility of the spandex rock generation.

It’s hard to imagine ‘A Mighty Wind’ having quite the same effect on folk musicians, but if anything that’s because of the nature of the music being spoofed, rather than the spoofery itself. The actors here don’t go out to the extremes of the genre purely because of the gently ludicrous nature of the type of folk acts they’re parodying.

Having shown his improv acting talents on ‘Tap’, and honed his directorial abilities in the same field with the underrated and under-distributed duo of ‘Waiting for Guffman’ and ‘Best in Show’, erstwhile ‘Tap’ member Christopher Guest gets the band on the road with his third spoof documentary. Reuniting Guest, McKean and Shearer (who adopts his Principle Skinner voice for most of his performance, just to confuse viewers further) with the ensemble cast put together for ‘Guffman’ and ‘Best in Show’, the director has gathered some of the greatest comic talents in the US today – and is rewarded, in spades, with one of the greatest comic films of recent years.

The Spinal Tap trio appear here as the Folksmen – an archetypal mid-west trio of checked shirt and bow-tie wearing musicians who, in real life, were the opening act for the Tap whenever McKean, Guest and Shearer took to the road. Joining them are Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara – ironically someone with a strong familial connection to the folk scene herself thanks to sister Mary Margaret – as frazzled duo Mitch and Mickey, and indie darling Parker Posey as one of the slightly embarrassing Partridge Family-esque New Main Street Singers.

Supposedly three of the 60s finest folk acts, all are brought together to perform at a concert for recently deceased impresario Irving Steinbloom by his neurotic family…and that’s it. There’s no real story, just the documenting of how these once great acts rose, fell and come back together amid bickering, infighting and the odd nervous breakdown.
The sheer depth of characterisation – created through painstaking hours of improvisation and development off-camera by the actors – means the whole thing has an air of believability which puts it above a mere spoof, whilst the familiarity of the cast members ensures all are more than comfortable sparking off each other.

Co-writer Eugene Levy, perhaps rightfully after so long as able support to everyone else’s films, truly steals the show as emotionally fried folksy Mitch Cohen, although Fred Willard’s cameo as barking mad agent Mike LaFontaine runs him close. But nowhere does the cast miss a beat, be it in the performance, the believability of the characters (and were it not for the familiarity of some of them, it’d be far too easy to be taken in) or even in the songs, which have the catchy cheesiness about them to underline just how serious a comedy this is.

Much of ‘A Mighty Wind’ isn’t roaring in the aisles funny, but when it is, it’s outstanding, with a payoff line at the end that comes completely out of nowhere.

It might not blow you away, but it certainly puts the wind up the rest of the multiplex fodder out just now.

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By Iain Hepburn

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