Christopher Guest's A Mighty Wind (2003)

Christopher Guest's A Mighty Wind (2003)

Christopher Guest crafting his most commercially successful film somehow coincided with A Mighty Wind taking home an Oscar for one of its musical performances. The odd thing, though, is the fact that since the film included so many different takes on folk music, a single effort was picked out. And instead of the winner being the Folksmen, a group in the film that Guest was a player in, the duo featuring Eugene Levy, who assisted in writing the screenplay, and Catherine O’Hara were singled out.

The song Levy and O’Hara were honored for did actually play a pivotal role in the films narrative. With the estranged musicians coming together in order to honor the memory of one of folk music’s champions, it seemed as if there was some possibility at reconciliation even as O’Hara’s character was happily married. Her husband might have run a pretty bland – or even disgusting business – but the couple had carved out a life rife with normalcy that must have felt bland when contrasted with being on stage. The entirety of the film’s trajectory isn’t focused on this one relationship between Mitch and Mickey, the duo Levy and O’Hara portray, but it was the most love-centric.

But regardless of the reason Mitch and Mickey’s song being lauded when some of the rougher folk stuff was ostensibly ignored, A Mighty Wind wound up ingratiating itself to a wide range of movie goers.

What’s interesting to consider is the fact that just a few years prior, the Cohen Brothers’ film O Brother, Where Art Thou? ushered in a short lived fascination with Americana. The musical genre had never become as broadly accepted as other musical forms springing from this country, but for a moment it seemed that there would be a renaissance. Maybe there was, but it’s seemed to have already ended. Either way, Guest and Levy were obviously aware of the Cohen Brothers’ success. That doesn’t mean the pair of writers set out to cash in, but the genre settled upon wasn’t an accident.

Again, A Mighty Wind makes use of a pretend documentary approach with the end of the film already a foregone conclusion. Viewers know from the onset of the film that there’s going to be a concert. And there is. So, to a certain extent, there’s really no arc to the narrative or too much anticipation being built.

Of course, along the way, it seems as if a few problems arise – anything from two bands finding each other’s song selections to be problematic to Mitch’s wondering off into the city moments before his performance. Those are all minor challenges, though. What makes this effort engaging in the same way as Guest’s previous directorial work in the same vein is that he and Levy were able to develop characters that might not be believable as actual people, but each arrives funny in an off putting way. Levy’s portrayal of a down-on-his-luck folk singer is as creepy as it is attractive. That seems to be the strength of the pair’s writing. And with another dual effort coming just a few years later, there’d be further refinement of the form proffered by these two comedy stalwarts.