*A Mighty Wind (PG-13)
Let's face it: Colorado Springs is home to many an old folkie, or at least old fans of old folkies. A Mighty Wind should be a huge hit in this town, not least for the familiar hairstyles, beards and wardrobes that color the picture. Christopher Guest and Eugene Levy fans and old folkies alike will relish the gentle, ironic treatment here that holds up a time and lifestyle for comic examination while stopping short of skewering it.
Neither as biting as Spinal Tap or Waiting for Guffman, nor as uproarious as Best in Show, A Mighty Wind holds its own as an exuberant Guest-brand treatment of a revered era -- the '60s and '70s of The Kingston Trio, The New Christy Minstrels and Peter, Paul and Mary.
Levy and Catharine O'Hara are Mitch and Mickey, a singing duo that split up years ago when Mitch went schizoid. Michael McKean, Guest and Harry Shearer are balding folk icons The Folksmen, mellow guys with mellow harmonies who've basically melted into the woodwork over the passing years. The New Main Street Singers, including John Michael Higgins, Jane Lynch and a perky Parker Posey, are the latest incarnation of folk perennials The Main Street Singers, dead-on impersonators of the Up With People cast.
The three groups are brought together for a reunion concert at Town Hall in New York City by nervous producer Jonathan Steinbloom (Bob Balaban), son of legendary producer and founder of the Folktown label, Irving Steinbloom, recently deceased. The idea is to tape the show live for the Public Broadcasting Network, under the guidance of a nebbish network executive played by Ed Begley Jr. Filmed in mock documentary style, the old days are warmly remembered by the players in interviews while the awkward reunion is staged in real time.
The songs will remind you why the best upbeat tunes of the folk era became children's classics -- they are relentlessly cheerful, hopeful, bouncy and lithe. They are dead-on facsimiles of the songs of our youth, penned by the cast and rendered in perfect harmonies.
Guest lets his actors go nuts, and the audience shares their genuine pleasure. Fred Willard, the clueless master of ceremonies of Best in Show, is a scream as the New Main Street Singers' manager, a ridiculous former television celebrity. Lynch and Higgins as Terry and Laurie Bohner are members of a bizarre coven that worships color, and Posey, a former street vamp, says plenty with her gaudy, white-toothed smile.
The characters of Shearer, Guest and McKean go relatively unexplored except for a slapstick piece of character development at the end, but Levy and O'Hara as Mitch and Mickey are fully fleshed out. As with the best satire, they are comic and tragic -- ridiculous and sublime -- and we genuinely care whether they will pull off the reunion or not.
A mild but satisfying entertainment, A Mighty Wind is a soft breeze in the midst of the summer cinema's hurricane season.