Do you remember the breathtaking moment in 1984′s This Is Spınal Tap when the founding members perform a lovely a cappela version of “All the Way Home,” a skiffle song from their early days? A Mighty Wind captures that sweetness and wraps it up in satire.
This 2003 mockumentary from Christopher Guest purports to tell the story of three once-prominent folk groups now gathering to memorialize their late mentor and producer. The characterizations and songs are eerily well-drawn. Michael McKean, Harry Shearer, and Guest himself (the trio made famous as Spinal Tap) appear as The Folksmen, a fictional fusion of folk groups like The Kingston Trio and Peter, Paul, and Mary. Jane Lynch and John Michael Higgins head the New Main Street Singers, a second-generation pop-folk neuf-tette that make their bread & butter playing to bored crowds at amusement parks. Mitch and Mickie (Eugene Levy and Catherine O’Hara) are the sweethearts of the folk world, once madly in love but now face to face for the first time in decades.
Here, Guest manages the delicate balance that characterizes the finest satire: he knows his subject inside-out and understands what makes it great as well as what makes it absurd. We’re treated to a loving send-up of folk excesses, all swaddled sweetly in the lovely music (much of it written by the cast). Mitch & Mickey’ beautiful theme “A Kiss At the End of the Rainbow” received an Academy nomination for Best Song — and deservedly so — but I’d argue that there are even finer songs in this film.
A particularly fine example is The Folksmen’s “Never Did No Wanderin’.” At first listen, it’s a perfect piece of folk music: haunting, mournful, potent, stirring. But then the lyrics sink in and it reveals itself as a deliciously witty indictment of folk’s cozy niche in the hearts of comfortable well-heeled suburbanites. It’s a wicked bite of parody and a fantastic song all rolled up together, indivisible.