A Mighty Wind directed by Christopher Guest, written by Guest and Eugene Levy, produced by Karen Murphy, with Guest, Levy, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, Catherine O'Hara and Fred Willard. 87 minutes. A Castle Rock release. Rating: NNNNN
Reuniting the fab ensemble cast responsible for the hilarious Waiting For Guffman and Best In Show to take on the folk music scene with A Mighty Wind (now showing) seemed like a brilliant plan. The folk scene had been begging for a send-up for years, and these were just the people to do it right.
Spinal Tap core members Christopher Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer had been developing their Kingston Trio-like Folksmen routine since their Saturday Night Live appearance in 84. Getting together with SCTV sketch comedy cohorts Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara for an improvisational riff on eccentric folkies reuniting after 30 years for a benefit concert made perfect sense.
But instead of non-stop hilarity, we get a tender love story of estranged folk sweethearts Mitch & Mickey, whom Levy and O'Hara play for poignancy, not parody. Their irony-free songs are delivered straight, with wince-inducing earnestness, while the other musical contributions -- collected on the accompanying A Mighty Wind (Sony) disc -- are silly at best.
Eugene Levy, who co-wrote A Mighty Wind with director Guest, is in dodge-and-denial mode from the start of his roundtable interview. He refuses to acknowledge any conceptual departure from their previous improv parodies, Waiting For Guffman and Best In Show.
"I don't think this film, or even the other two, is a send-up," insists Levy to puzzled stares. "The nature of the films is similar in that we're going for people who take themselves a little too seriously, whether folk singers, community theatre players or show dog owners. But other than subject matter, I really don't consider this film that different from the other two."
Spoken like someone with points trying hard to spin a potential box office bomb into something just like the well-loved previous successes.
Levy can't deny that a corny sentimentality runs through A Mighty Wind, but he tries his best.
"It may have a softer, more sentimental edge. We venture into an area in this film -- certainly with the storyline involving Catherine and me -- where we didn't go in the other two, but we thought it was a good way to go for the third film."
The decision to hang the film on the dramatic tension created by Levy and O'Hara's humour-free relationship is ultimately its undoing.
"When we came up with the story of these people coming back together for a concert, we thought of creating a situation where something in the background of two characters was so horrendous, so difficult, that their reuniting would provide real conflict.
"We wound up with this folk duo who'd been married and been through a horrible divorce but are now getting back together for one more show. But I don't think there's anything romantic about Mitch."
Even if Levy seems to have partly drawn on Richard Fariña (of Richard and Mimi fame) for his Mitch Cohen character, the relationship parallel between Ian & Sylvia and Mitch & Mickey through marriage and breakup is still intriguing.
O'Hara seems to have gone so far out of her way to model Mickey Devlin Crabbe after Sylvia Tyson -- from her straight dark hair right down to the hardwood floors of her Rosedale home -- that there's no getting away from it. But you know Levy will give it a shot.
"We weren't trying to mirror anyone with Mitch & Mickey. I knew that Ian & Sylvia had been married and split up, but I didn't know too many of the details. Catherine actually talked to Sylvia Tyson before we started shooting, so she had some information.
"Some people have asked if they were based on Sonny & Cher. I didn't even think about that, but you've got a husband and wife who sing together, sell millions of records and then go their separate ways. I can see the comparison."firstname.lastname@example.org