"A Mighty Wind" is yet another entry into the long series of Christopher Guest/Eugene Levy "mockumentaries". This time, the Gues/Levy team have finally pushed their act over the edge, but not in terms of wackiness or hilarity. This time, the characters, songs, and fictional events that the two have cooked up are much too believable to get laughs. While much of this play on folk music is indelibly warm-hearted, most of it is taken too seriously to be very funny at all.
At the beginning of the film, Irving Steinbloom (Stuart Luce), a big-time folk music producer, is dead. His son Jonathan (Bob Balaban) decides it would be a great idea to reunite three of the most popular bands produced under Irving's label for a tribute concert to honor him. The Folksmen (Harry Shearer, Michael McKean, and Christopher Guest), The New Main Street Singers (including Jane Lynch, John Michael Higgins, and Parker Posey), and Mitch and Mickey (Eugene Levy and Catherine OHara) all agree to be part of the concert. Each group has their own problems, but Mitch and Mickey seem to have the most baggage; once in love, the two have since broken off their relationship. Mickey has married a man obsessed with model trains (Jim Piddock), and Mitch has all but gone quietly insane.
For those who aren't quite sure, what I meant when I said the film was a "mockumentary" is this is a comedy shot in the style of a documentary-- thus, the onscreen highjinks have to be slightly more realistic and therefore there's less room for all-out spoofing.
Now, it is wonderful to have a comedy with a heart. In fact, the relationship between Mitch and Mickey, as pitifully haphazard as it can be at times, it is very sweet and does connect on some small level. But then where does the comedy come through? "A Mighty Wind" almost completely fails in that respect. The characters are not so wild or interesting as the film thinks they are; I have seen plenty of people in many documentaries who believe what most of the characters in this film believe and who act like they do. There are so many times during the course of "A Mighty Wind" where I almost forgot I wasn't watching a real documentary. Even the supposedly "funny" songs aren't that bad at all; most of them are actually pretty catchy. Why shouldn't the characters be having a good time playing them? The film wants their enthusiasm to be funny, but doesn't realize that nothing it presents is too out of the ordinary.
Along with a few sporadic chuckles, the film does have two genuinely funny creations. The first is Amber Cole (Jennifer Coolidge), the wife of an executive helping with the production of the show. She speaks with a voice that's something of a cross between Stitch from "Lilo and Stitch", Kermit the Frog, and a supermodel. Coolidge hits right where most of the other actors in the film miss: she plays Cole as acutely dense, but with the attitude that she is the intellectual equal of anyone else in the world.
The other is Fred Willard as amateur comedian Mike LaFontaine, a man who overestimates both his humor value and his skill with catchphrases ("Hey, Wha'happened?!"). Willard gives LaFontaine a blank stare and spastic energy that steal the show any time he's onscreen, which is an unfortunately small portion of the film.
The two actors I just mentioned took their characters seriously, so where did the others go wrong? Everyone else needs to be much less ashamed of their characters' quirks. For example, it is revealed that Jonathan Steinbloom had to wear a helmet for his chess club-- that could be hilarious, if it wasn't something he was embarrassed about. His embarrassment merely implies that he had obsessive, overprotective parents. The recent documentary "Spellbound" suggests there are much stranger, extreme parents out there, so why should we laugh if that kind of behavior is so commonplace? So what Balaban could have done with that line is pretend it was perfectly normal that he wore that helmet; act as if it's nothing wierd or shameful at all. The humor in the kinds of films Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy make requires that actors present strange situations with a certain nonchalance. But unfortunately, "A Mighty Wind" is lacking; most of the actors play it so straight and with such little acceptance for what should come naturally to their crazy characters that the film ultimately loses out.