A Mighty Wind

(Christopher Guest, USA, 2003)


"A mighty wind is blowing me and you". Is there any comic team that can get away with such casually outrageous jokes concerning flatulence and oral sex better than the This is Spinal Tap (1984) brigade, and specifically the writer-director-actor Christopher Guest?

This splendid line, which provides the title of Guest's best film, is the climax to an anthemic folk song. And the song itself climaxes a rather pathetic revival concert that invites fans to nostalgically wallow in their youthful memories of the '60s folk music. (I wonder if Guest was inspired by an obscure Paul Simon movie, One-Trick Pony [1980], in which a similarly gruesome get-together was convened?)

Although the film's humour is accessible to anyone, those with a close knowledge of the pop music of that era will really have a ball spotting and sorting out the references. The duo of Mitch (Eugene Levy) and Mickey (Catherine O'Hara), for example, arouse memories of many such folk couples – but in his extreme depression and dysfunction, Mitch also comprises bits and pieces of the Leonard Cohen and David Crosby stories.

This is the funniest film I have seen in a long time. Guest indulges in some rambling, obvious, facile gags, but for the most part he uses the mockumentary premise to race breathlessly between diverse characters, story lines and songs (it is a superbly edited film). Some of the plot threads never quite seem to be worked out successfully – as with the wonderful junkie-turned-folkie, Sissy (Parker Posey) – and the final concert performance is not quite as spectacular as one wishes for after all the tortuous build-up to it. But almost every scene is a self-contained gem of pop-cultural observation.

I have never been an enormous Guest fan, for I have found his grasp on the human comedy to be rather thin and brittle. Unlike the two Brooks (Albert and James L.), he can never get to that dangerous point when comedy steps over into drama and then must negotiate the scary consequences of that move. And the mockumentary format, post Spinal Tap, has long become an excuse for comic laziness, in Australia as elsewhere.

But A Mighty Wind is, within in its own terms, a perfect comedy – and the natural candidate for a long afterlife on DVD, where all its details and set-pieces will be richly savoured.

MORE Guest: Attack of the 50ft Woman, The Big Picture

© Adrian Martin July 2003

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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