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A Mighty Wind (April 12/03)

Christopher Guest's previous two mostly-improvised comedies, Waiting for Guffman and Best in Show, were mostly underwhelming and essentially free of laughs. The biggest problem with those movies had to do with Guest's reliance on caricatures rather than characters. There weren't a whole lot of figures in those movies that seemed like real people; they existed only to set-up punchlines and give the audience something to laugh at. But with A Mighty Wind, though he does fall back on that particular crutch now and then, Guest has crafted a film populated with intriguing and (more importantly) compelling characters, and thrown them into a situation that's genuinely interesting.

The film details the efforts of Jonathan Steinbloom (Bob Balaban) to stage a concert in memory of his late father, who represented a variety of folk music acts during his lifetime. As the concert begins to take shape, we witness the three acts prepare for the gig - Mitch and Mickey (Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara), The Folksmen (Guest, Harry Shearer, and Michael McKean), and the New Main Street Singers. There are also a number of periphery characters, including Lars Olfen (Ed Begley Jr.), an executive who arranges for the concert to be televised live, along with the manager of the New Main Street Singers, Mike LaFontaine (Fred Willard).

Though the film does contain it's share of jokes that absolutely do not work, it's the characters in A Mighty Wind that propel the story forward. These are people that we come to care about, embodied by talented actors and actresses that (for the most part) tend not to indulge in the quirky idiosyncrasies that Guest's first two films were plagued by. There are a few exceptions to this, with the bizarre religious beliefs of a couple of characters a little too obvious and over-the-top, but collectively, this is about as close as Guest has managed to come in creating a variety of believable figures.

It certainly doesn't hurt that the music is so well done; even if the film doesn't hold much interest for you, the musical numbers are so well done and full of energy that even non-fans of this genre will find themselves getting into it. Add to that some fantastic supporting performances (most notably Willard, whose Mike LaFontaine is one of the funniest characters to hit theaters in a while), and A Mighty Wind a feel-good comedy that's breezy and completely entertaining.

out of