Have you ever seen that zany Errol Morris documentary, Gates of Heaven, the one about the pet cemetery and the people who have their pets buried there? Well, if you haven’t seen it, and if you like the documentary format in particular, you might want to check it out. But the actual reason why I mention that movie is because just like this movie, Best In Show (Christopher Guest, 2000), it’s central theme is coping. Yes, Best In Show has an extremely amusing context about a colorful cast of character’s entering their dogs in a competition, but underneath that, it’s really about coping. It’s about people coping with people, mostly, but it’s also about dogs coping with people. And ironically, how dogs (or any other pets for that matter) allow people to cope more effectively in the first place. Basically, there’s a lot of coping going on.
And behind all of this coping is the usual cast of brilliant comic actors who always seem to find themselves in Christopher Guest movies. Jane Lynch is great. Jennifer Coolidge is great. Catherine O’Hara is great. John Michael Higgins is great. Michael McKean is great. Parker Posey is great. They’re all great. They all have their moments. Especially Fred Willard who provides a volcanic amount of humor somewhere after the halfway point. It’s nonstop and it’s hysterical. “Tell me, do you know the difference between a rectal thermometer and a tongue depressor?”
But there’s a performance here in particular that I wanted to point out, and that is Christopher Guest’s. While watching Best in Show it occurred to me— and I could be wrong about this— but it occurred to me that he seems to the most chameleon-like of all the actors in this cast. By that, I mean, he’s consistently the most unrecognizable. He seems to disappear into his roles slightly more so than the rest, physically speaking. Which isn’t to say that the other actors don’t play a variety of diverse roles, because they certainly do. And it also isn’t to say that Christopher Guest is always the funniest character, because he isn’t, and he isn’t in this movie either. In fact, his character comes off as a bit sad to me. He’s very likeable. He’s cordial and he’s nice. But there’s a visible tinge of loneliness and sadness throughout, especially in the ventriloquist scenes. I guess you could say he’s coping with loneliness (aren’t we all), and luckily, at the end of the day, he has his dog to cope with.
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Christopher Guest’s movies remind me of a rare, amazing traveling theater troupe whom every now and then reunite to tell a wonderful little gem of a story. I’d like to call these stories “movies of the theater,” because in a lot of ways they are more like stage-plays than movies. For one, they are bursting at the seams with excellent performances from a massive ensemble cast (all of whom, by the way, are having so much fun bringing these zany characters to life, you can’t help but have fun too). These performances are simultaneously over-the-top and constrained at the same time, which sounds like a contradiction, but the very form of “mockumentary” lends itself well to this realistic style of acting approached in a somewhat theatrical way. Basically, the actors are playing a ridiculous moment, very seriously. Thusly, the more ridiculous the moment, the more serious they play it, the more hilarious it ends up being. This phenomenon can be summed up in a single line of dialogue, which is serious, ridiculous, and hilarious all at the same time. “I’ve come to understand as an adult that there had been abuse in my family, but it was mostly musical in nature.” Seriously ridiculous. Ridiculously hilarious.
The other component in A Mighty Wind (Christopher Guest, 2003) that is more akin to a stage-play than a movie is that the story is conveyed almost entirely through dialogue (or song, in this case). As a result, there is A LOT of talking, which may lead to wandering thoughts and glazed over eyes for some eager viewers. However, if you manage to listen, really listen, you’ll find yourself being rewarded by laughter more often than not. True laughter, too. I’m not talking about a joke in a movie that you know you’re supposed to laugh at, because it’s an obvious joke, and everyone else is laughing, so you chuckle too. I’m talking about genuinely funny moments that are derived from small, bizarre details that remind you of moments in your own life; human moments that are somehow so funny you can’t help but laugh out loud.
And as far as the story is concerned, A Mighty Wind is simply about a handful of folk bands reuniting and coming together for one last show to honor the recent passing of a pioneer to their beloved folk music. All of this comes off very natural and unforced, which is a testament to how great a filmmaker Christopher Guest actually is. The way all of these disparate characters are brought to a cohesive life in what seems like an effortless manner is actually really difficult to do. On top of that, all of the music is really well done and is full of joyous life. Yes, it’s folk music, but it’s catchy as heck, sometimes funny, and at it’s best is emotionally impactful.
Ultimately, A Mighty Wind is a bittersweet story about characters desperately trying to reconcile their past, while coming to terms with who they are in the present. Some succeed. Some don’t. It reminds me of that Bob Dylan song, “The Times They Are a-Changin.’” In that you can clutch onto the past as ferociously as you’d like, but it is no contest for the wind that blows the sands of time, for it is a mighty wind indeed.
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