Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Faux-Doc Watch: A Mighty Wind (2003)

A Mighty Wind (2003) is not the same, tight-knit ensemble film we got in Waiting for Guffman, and doesn't have quite the laugh-per-minute ratio or Best in Show, but, man, is it watchable and weirdly moving.  Which, in itself is a trick.  

This one centers on a rush to put on a memorial show for a former producer and promoter of folk acts from the 1960's - and thus jumps the awkward bridge of time a lot of us saw on PBS in the 1990's as concerts of folk favorites like Peter, Paul and Mary became staples of fund-raising weekends - an attempt to appeal to the nostalgia of the boomers and their wallets.  

The movie doesn't have a tie-in to the PBS fundraisers, but provides a doc's eye-view of three acts being brought back to the spotlight for one night, the favorites of the deceased as the reunion show becomes a televised event.  One trio, the Folksmen, is made up of McKean, Guest and Shearer, another made up of 9 or more performers includes Parker Posey and Jane Lynch (and their promoter, Fred Willard), and the final - with Schitt's Creek stars Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara - a formerly romantic pair whose story never matches the mythology.

I've seen this movie no less than six times, and I'm still not sure what's played for sincerity here and how much of this is the cast and crew having a laugh.  Arguably, most of the cast is doing pretty great improvisational comedy as you know they're capable, including Bob Balaban as the safety-conscious son of the promoter (doing some amazing deadpan concern), and Jennifer Coolidge marketing the show with Larry Miller.  

The heart of the film is Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara's former duo, whose career as a couple ended poorly under circumstances the film never quite gets into, but were... bad.  30 years later, Levy's Mitch is residing in a rest home and appears to be deeply medicated, while O'Hara's Mickey has wound up married to a medical supplies rep with a penchant for model trains.  And, really, the ghost of whatever the pair once had haunts their storyline as both seem like shells of what they were.  

The improvised sincerity is what's new here, and in reading Ebert's review, he didn't seem to quite know what to make of it - but with hindsight, it presages what was going to come in For Your Consideration and to an extent, Family Tree

The trick is - For all the build up, there's a punchline to all that tension.  Mitch and Mickey both think the other read too much into their moment on stage, and it was us who bought the theatrics.  It's a heck of a coda on something that's been built up for a good chunk of the movie.    And it's hard to tell if the characters are lying to themselves or each other or the camera.  

The music in the film is as important here as in This Is Spinal Tap, and most of the songs are genuinely very listenable - especially the near-twee Kiss at the End of the Rainbow (written by Michael McKean and wife Annette O'Toole) which wound up Oscar nominated.  And to some extent, the humor in or about the songs is not dissimilar to some of the general humor of the movie - it's so close to sincerity, I'm genuinely not sure after hearing these songs a lot, and seeing the movie several times, at times if this is being played for gentle laughs or is this what it appears to be?

I have a hard time believing that a full cast singing the words "it's blowing you and me!" is sincere.  But... it's also not seemingly played for laughs.  So.  

We've been watching Schitt's Creek at our house during the pandemic, and on the show Levy and O'Hara are paired again (as they also were in Best in Show), and it's a reminder how a very silly show with kooky characters can also have some amazing heart and sincerity when you buy into those characters, and let character earn the laughs over generally wacky situations.  And I kind of wish A Mighty Wind had not had so much ground to cover to let their characters breathe.  

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