A Mighty Wind. Warner Bros. presents a film directed by Christopher Guest. Written by Guest and Eugene Levy. Running time: 92 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for sex-related humor). Starring Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara, Bob Balaban, Jane Lynch, Parker Posey, Larry Miller, Fred Willard.

Mighty Wind, A

When you think of mockumentaries (parodies of traditional documentaries), the first name to come up is Christopher Guest. He co-wrote and co-starred in This is Spinal Tap, the best and most famous entry into the genre, and he has directed two of his own (Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show). His latest film, A Mighty Wind, falls somewhere between his previous two efforts; it's not as good Waiting for Guffman, but better than Best in Show.

Taking a cue from This is Spinal Tap, Guest has elected to focus A Mighty Wind on the musical industry. But instead of heavy metal, A Mighty Wind deals with folk music. Despite the rather obscure nature of the folk genre, A Mighty Wind is very much like Guest's other films in that a familiarity with the topic at hand is certainly not necessary to fully enjoy the film. The nature of the film is such that both fans and non-fans of folk music will appreciate the movie equally.

The main plotline of A Mighty Wind deals with a tribute concert to the recently deceased music producer, Irving Steinbloom. Organized by his son, Bob Balaban, the concert is a reunion of three once-popular folk music bands. The three acts are The Folksmen (Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer), who have only had one big hit; Mitch and Micky (Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara); and The New Main Street Singers, a group of nine who appear righteous and God-fearing, but are actually a group of color-worshipping witches. The film is split into interview segments with the bands (many of which were clearly improvised - but in a good way) and documentary-style footage of the bands getting ready for the show.

Most of the performers in A Mighty Wind are veterans to Christopher Guest productions, and for good reason. Each one of them is very funny. Guest, McKean, and Shearer, together for the first time since Spinal Tap, share excellent chemistry - it is very easy to believe that these three are a real band - and they are each exceptional improvisors. Only a few of the Main Street Singers have major parts, but the ones who do are excellent. The best segments in the film belong to SCTV alums Levy and O'Hara. The supporting players, including Bob Balaban and Fred Willard, round out the ensemble cast nicely.

The folk songs presented during the film, much like the heavy metal songs in Spinal Tap, are true to the source. They do poke fun at the genre, but never go over the top. The songs, written and sung by members of the cast, hold up very well on their own, and are no worse than any other folk song. And the tribute concert, when it finally does occur, feels genuine - very much like any tribute concert you could see on PBS.

All of Guest's films have all had two major things in common. The humor, of course, but also believable and sympathetic characters. The film's screenplay (only Guest and Levy are given official SAG writing credit, but it is clear that other cast members played roles as well) develops the characters into people we grow to care about over the rather short running length. Surprisingly, the concert climax is actually quite touching.

Anyone who appreciates the style of humor present in Guest's films will find plenty to like in A Mighty Wind, while those who laugh hardest at dumb gross-out comedies are recommended to stay away. The laughs come often, even if they are not always large belly-laughs. I found myself at least chuckling throughout much of the film, making it a much more even experience than Best in Show. The movie is slightly uneven, but it is still superior to most of the so-called "comedies" being forced upon us these days.

© 2003 Matt Noller