Dir: Christopher Guest
Star: Catherine O’Hara, Eugene Levy, Christopher Guest, Michael McKean
Five-word summary? Spinal Tap for folk music. There you go. But I’m not sure if much the same approach – with a lot of the same cast – is quite sufficient here. What worked in Tap, was that most of the incidents were more or less credible, pushed perhaps only fractionally, That was all they needed. Here, there isn’t the same sense of surreal lunacy; perhaps it’s my complete unfamiliarity with the subject matter, or perhaps it’s the restraint which is apparently on view. The results are largely not very funny, though the characters portrayed are quirky enough that the film avoids becoming a chore. It follows the attempts to organize a memorial concert for legendary folk producer Irving Steinbloom, reuniting some of the groups he worked with.
These include Mitch (Levy) and Mickey (O’Hara), a former duo who split up, after which Mitch went entirely off the rails; there’s also the New Main Street Singers, of whom only one of the nine were in the original, and the Folksmen, a trio who…do not appear to be amusing in any significant way, until the very end when it’s revealed that one member isn’t quite as they appear. Needless to say, the concert doesn’t go quite as planned – though in line with the much more gentle approach, you’d be hard-pushed to call it a comedy of errors. Or a comedy of anything. I think I laughed out-loud once, when the Folksmen suddenly have to extend their set, and one member begins on what appears to be a history of the Spanish Civil War.
Otherwise, even the music is more faithful re-enactment than biting satire: Mitch and Mickey’s alleged hit, actually ended up being nominated for the Best Song Oscar, which is something you just can’t imagine happening to Big Bottom. As noted, the individual characters are not unpleasant, being off-center enough that they remain interesting. However, reading reviews that describe it as “hilarious” and “hysterical” leave me wondering if there was some mix-up on the cable channel, and I was actually watching a serious documentary about folk music. This one certainly doesn’t go to eleven.