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Scott Ventura >> Movie Commentary >> May 2003 >> A Mighty Wind

A Mighty Wind

Movie Commentary by Scott Ventura


Scott's Rating:
5 / 5
Times Seen:
Viewing Date:
May 2003
IMDB Name:
Mighty Wind, A (2003)
Christopher Guest
MPAA Rating:
PG-13 for sex-related humor.

A Mighty Laugh

I'm starting to wonder if Christopher Guest can do any wrong. He's now directed three outstanding comedies using the mockumentary format. The first chronicled a small town's musical production, Waiting for Guffman. The second was the canine carnival Best in Show. A Mighty Wind is probably the funniest of the three. As a bonus, Wind has more opportunities for drama than the others, providing nice contrast with the humor. These moments also highlight the outstanding quality of the acting. While there are still characters about whom everything is seriously funny, the tension between long-dissolved folk duo Mitch & Mickey is unexpectedly rich for this genre.

Wind includes some of the most outlandish characters ever to appear in a mockumentary. Fred Willard's character is especially quotable as the forgotten star of a short- lived sitcom now managing a folk group. At a declaration of "Folk Music Day", he slams the deputy mayor before launching into some terrible jokes for the cameras. John Michael Higgins and Jane Lynch play a married couple whose brand of spirituality is freaking out the newest member of the New Main Street Singers. Ed Begley Jr.'s Lars Olfen is a Swede with an astonishing mastery of Yiddish when he's around Bob Balaban's obsessive-compulsive Jonathan. Guest himself turns in one of history's most interesting vocal performances, especially as evidenced when the Folksmen are singing Old Joe's Place.

At the tamer end, there are wonderful performances from people like Eugene Levy, Catherine O'Hara and Michael McKean. Levy's idiosyncracies point to a sordid history of mental problems and chemical abuse. On the bright side, he's fabulously surreal when it comes to simple conversation. O'Hara gets laughs with little looks, little hints of a midwest accent, and the fact that she plays the autoharp. McKean is fun because he's just the tiniest bit slimy. He was never a lover of folk music, and he always perceives himself as just slightly above the rest. I could go on and on about the rest of the cast, but I think you get the idea by now.

On the technical side, Wind's editing is superb. Robert Leighton lets the shot linger for about a second after several jokes so that we have a moment to savor them. The extra time gives the impression that the joke isn't quite over. I can't explain why this would make them funnier, but I definitely sense that the delay augments the humor. Leighton also make copious use of reaction shots throughout the film, and these non-speaking moments show the cast in top form. It's much easier to emote vocally than visually, but these folks do it, and the editing allows us to appreciate it.

All About the Music

I've been spending extensive time with the soundtrack for A Mighty Wind. It's terrific. The characters have sublimely appropriate music that is quite credible on its own. I was stunned to find myself simultaneously crying at the story of Bobby and June while laughing at how subtly bad it is. That particular song isn't heard in the movie, but the ones that made it are terrific. There are three featured groups: The Folksmen, The Main Street Singers, and Mitch and Mickey. Mitch and Mickey sound quite a bit like Paul and Art, but with slightly less tact. The Main Street Singers are a relentlessly cheerful neuftet [sic] singing absurdly lush vocal harmonies. Though rooted in the Kinston Trio, the Folksmen drift farthest afield in their style, and the soundtrack includes a must-hear rendition of "Start Me Up".

Copyright 2003 by Scott Ventura. All rights reserved.