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DVD Pick: “A Mighty Wind”

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I think it’s a good idea for me to state up front that I’m a fan of writer-director-actor Christopher Guest. I’ve always loved his quirky, satiric style, especially in “Waiting for Guffman” and “Best in Show.” Although I got a lot of laughs out of “A Mighty Wind,” the edge of the humor in this film is a little gentler than I expected.

Guest has what amounts to a repertory company of talented actors who help him develop material through improvisation. And much of the humor has the kind of freshness that something overly scripted can never match. Among the regulars appearing in “A Mighty Wind” are Eugene Levy, Catherine O’Hara, Michael McKean, John Michael Higgins, Jane Lynch, Fred Willard, Bob Balaban, Parker Posey, and Jennifer Coolidge.

The idea for the story in “A Mighty Wind” is that decades after their heyday, three 1960s folk music groups will put on a concert at New York’s Town Hall. The show will also be broadcast on public television, and if you’ve ever been channel surfing during membership drives, you have a pretty good idea what the concert will be like. Of course, the story is really just a framework on which to hang skit-style comedy sketches and send-ups of old folk songs.

The first group we meet consists of three middle-aged men dealing with hair loss. Two of the guys (Guest and Harry Shearer) met in college in 1961 and formed a two-man act called the Twobadours. In New York they added a lead singer (McKean) to become the Folksmen.

At one point, the trio was recording on a label that did not put holes in the center of their records—the record buyer had to punch them. The trio’s idea of folksiness was to drop the final “g” of words ending in “ing,” which accounts for their album titles: “Singin’,” “Wishin’,” and “Pickin’.” Their biggest hit was a song called “Never Did No Wanderin’.”

According to this movie, there used to be a group called the Main Street Singers that disbanded around 1970, but they have been reconstituted as the New Main Street Singers, and this is the second group we meet. This clean-cut group, which plays family places like Florida amusement parks, bills itself as a neuftet because it consists of nine performers. They are led by the Bohners, Terry (Higgins) and Laurie (Lynch). Terry got his idea to re-form the Main Street Singers when he was locked away in a room with one of their records, while his wife Laurie comes from a porn industry background. They share the belief that “humankind is simply materialized color operating on the 49th vibration.”

The third group we meet is known as Mitch & Mickey, who are played by Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara. This formerly married couple were once the sweethearts of folk music fans all over the world because of their song titled “A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow.” Their performance of this number featured a kiss that we are told by a folk music historian was “maybe a great moment in the history of humans.” But Mitch and Mickey went through a bitter breakup around 1974. Mitch ended up in a psychiatric hospital, while Mickey went on to marry a nonmusical man who’s in the bladder management industry.

Of course, all does not go smoothly as the three groups get ready for the big concert, which is called “Ode to Irving” in honor of their late producer, Irving Steinbloom. But if you want to know how everything comes out, you’ll have to watch the movie for yourself. However, I dare you to resist smiling when all three musical groups combine to perform a silly, but rousing, folk song about a mighty wind that’s “a-blowin’ peace and freedom.”

Unlike many comedies that lose steam after an amusing beginning, “A Mighty Wind” not only starts strong, it gains even more momentum once the big concert begins.

Doing something in a movie that’s both funny and touching must be next to impossible, given how often this fails. But “A Mighty Wind” manages to pull off this feat. The film does this particularly well in one of my favorite storylines revolving around the failed romance between Mitch and Mickey. Near the end of the concert, they sing “A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow,” during which they pause for a tender kiss. It’s a delicate moment that’s poignant, but doesn’t slow down the comedy.

Continued on Next Page: "A Mighty Wind" DVD Review

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