I’ve never had any memorable experiences with folk music. Whether being forced by my dad to watch some PBS documentary on folk, or listening to some neo-folkie preach and drone while strumming an acoustic guitar at Java Jones’ open mic night, I’ve never found any genre of music to be more sleep-inducing than folk.
Thankfully, you don’t need to be a folk aficionado (or even a fan) to be entertained by Christopher Guest’s latest mockumentary, “A Mighty Wind.” After directing send-ups of community theater in “Waiting for Guffman” and dog shows in “Best in Show,” Guest has now set his sights on the folk music scene. It’s a smart choice for Guest to target a niche music scene almost 20 years after his performance as Nigel Tufnel in Rob Reiner’s classic rockumentary “This is Spinal Tap.” Like “Tap,” “Guffman” and “Best in Show,” “A Mighty Wind” focuses on a group of people who are very passionate about something completely unpopular.
In “A Mighty Wind,” Guest assembles his usual company of improv players and divides them up into three folk groups. The movie’s several plot lines converge at a reunion concert in New York City, where each of the three groups represent a different faction of the folk music scene.
The New Main Street Singers are a “neuftet” (nine-piece group) that look like actors from a toothpaste commercial and perform in amusement parks and on cruise ships. Laurie Bohner (pronounced Boner, and played by Jane Lynch), one of the leaders of this artistically compromised group, discovered folk music while starring in the adult film “Not So Tiny Tim.”
The Folksmen (featuring Spinal Tap’s nucleus, Guest, Michael McKean and Harry Shearer) are an amusing revelation of what semi-stars of the ’60s folk scene look like today. Long after their prime, the Folksmen are a bald and paunchy trio of troubadours. Their funniest moments come when they reminisce about their heyday, back when their records came without holes punched in the middle.
But the stars of the film’s concluding concert (and of the entire movie) are Mitch & Mickey (played by Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara). Mitch & Mickey were a married couple and folk duo in the ’60s, whose hit “A Kiss at the End of the Rainbow” always featured a romantic kiss at the end of the song. At the peak of their stardom, Mitch and Mickey got divorced, and Mitch went batshit insane. After not speaking to Mickey for 28 years, Mitch decides to reunite the duo at the New York City concert.
The big question looming in “A Mighty Wind” is, will Mitch and Mickey kiss again at the conclusion of their hit song when they are reunited? On the comedic journey to the movie’s climax, I missed half the jokes because I was laughing so hard at the other half. It’s too early to rank this mockumentary up with “Spinal Tap,” “Guffman” and “Best in Show,” but “A Mighty Wind” is so damn funny that (for 87 minutes) I actually enjoyed folk music.