A Mighty Wind


After creating a mock rock group with fellow comic musicians Michael McKean and Harry Shearer for the Rob Reiner classic This Is Spinal Tap, Guest returned to the faux documentary format in 1997 with Waiting for Guffman, his zany chronicle of an amateur musical revue in Missouri. The writer-director followed that cult success with 2000's Best in Show, a hilarious look at the foibles of pet owners preparing for a national dog show. Guest's latest mock doc is A Mighty Wind, an irresistibly droll sendup of over-the-hill '60s folk singers. Nearly the entire cast of Best in Show (many of whom also appeared in Guffman) is back, singing their earnest hearts out in a parody that's just close enough to reality to be painfully funny.

When legendary music manager Irving Steinbloom dies, his dourly devoted son Jonathan (Bob Balaban) decides to organize a memorial concert at New York's Town Hall, bringing together some of his best-known artists. Guest, McKean and Shearer, in a startling change from their Spinal Tap personas, play The Folksmen, a socially conscious trio who released a series of albums in the '60s with titles like Singin', Wishin' and Pickin'. Terry Bohner (John Michael Higgins) heads up The New Main Street Singers, a relentlessly cheerful "neuftet" reconstituted from a '60s ensemble whose only surviving member is played by comedy vet Paul Dooley. Then there's Mitch & Mickey ("SCTV" grads Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara), a beloved duo who experienced an especially messy breakup--Mitch had a nervous breakdown and subsequently recorded the solo albums Cry for Help and Calling It Quits, featuring ditties like "May She Rot in Hell" and "If I Had a Gun."

The movie follows the travails of this eccentric bunch as they prepare for the Town Hall gala, culled from the inspired improvs of Guest's gifted cast. Just as they skewered heavy metal in Spinal Tap, Guest, McKean and Shearer have composed a series of folk songs that sound uncannily like the real thing, with just the subtlest flavoring of absurdity. The cloying New Main Street Singers get their biggest laughs offstage, in the odd relationship of leader Bohner and his ex-porno star wife Laurie (Jane Lynch), who practice a religion based on the untapped powers of color. The one disappointment is Levy's near-catatonic performance, played more for pathos than laughs--not necessarily what you'd expect from this wonderfully versatile comedian. But he and O'Hara have a touching scene as Mitch and Mickey attempt to revive their sentimental duet, "A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow."

A Mighty Wind also brings in a crazy constellation of supporting characters, including the indelible Jennifer Coolidge as a half-witted publicist; Ed Begley, Jr. as a Nordic public-TV exec who has a Yiddish phrase for every occasion; Best in Show scene-stealer Fred Willard as the New Main Street Singers' cheesy manager, a onetime TV sitcom star, and a dryly witty Balaban as the anal-retentive Jonathan.

With Guest and company in top form, A Mighty Wind will surely rank as best in show in this spring's comedy roster.

-Kevin Lally