Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Movie review- A Mighty Wind 

A Mighty Wind, as I'm sure most of you know, is the latest Christopher Guest mockumentary, in the same vein as Waiting for Guffman and Best of Show. It's a similarly constructed film, with much of the same cast, such as Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara, Michael McKean and Christopher Guest himself.

The movies are all presented as serious documentaries of serious subjects. In A Mighty Wind we follow around three folk-rock acts as they prepare for a reunion to celebrate the passing of the agent who represented all of them. So some of the filming is presented as interviews of the musicians and other people connected to the show, and the rest of the movie shows the characters apparently unaware of the camera, going about their business preparing for the show. Guest allows us to laugh at the characters without comment, without seeming to try to present them as stupid or ridiculous, which they are. We learn about one member of the "New Main Street Singers" who has realized that he suffered abuse in his family, though it was "mostly musical in nature", and now he has found refuge in the worship of color, a religion which he thinks is so obvious, "you could have realized it going to the corner store." We see the "New Main Street Singers" rehearsing, all in normal clothes except for one member, the newest, who is being required to wear his band outfit to rehearsals until the band leader deems him worthy to practice in "civvies".

The best known film of this type, and still the funniest, is This Is Spinal Tap. There's no one like rock musicians for overblown self-importance and pomposity. There's tons of material for this kind of humor in the life of a musical act on the road, perhaps especially a heavy metal act. It's almost impossible to not compare Guest's later works to Spinal Tap, although it's unfair to do so. Some have said that of Guest's work, A Mighty Wind comes closest to Spinal Tap precisely because the subject material is similar. But the movies really are totally different, and as I was watching A Mighty Wind, it did not evoke Spinal Tap at all. Folk singers have a whole different vibe than '70s rockers, and Guest nails that vibe. Also, Spinal Tap gives us a very focused view of just a few characters, and A Mighty Wind gives a sketch of a larger number of characters. I felt like I would have loved to see a lot more of some of the characters, but a broader focus allows us to get a quick glimpse into a large number of different personalities, and all of them are worth it. So the payoff's totally different than Spinal Tap.

There's some sex-related humor which may be off-putting to some. There's just a couple of places where you would worry about kids. Most of it's subtle enough that you wouldn't worry about kids even knowing what's going on. Like all of Guest's work, the theme of this is a gentle skewering of the self-important and the strange. But the fact that Guest allows the audience to interact directly with the subjects, without the appearance of any commentary or filter, makes the humor good-natured. The people in Guest's movies are not so much mocked as they are allowed to make fools of themselves on camera. It drags a little in some places, as all of Guest's works do. The story structure, or lack thereof, will lose some viewers. He's kind of a meandering director. But the laughs are big enough to make it worth the effort.

This got 3/5 stars on my Netflix ratings list.
Rent the DVD free from Netflix

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