"A fun ride that rado show fans will especially enjoy."
When Garrison Keillor’s singing comes thru the radio from A Prairie Home Companion waves of nostalgia wash over you. The same is true for the movie version of his acclaimed radio broadcast directed by Robert Altman. In the end it isn’t relevant where truth separates from fiction – the ride is all that matters.When Garrison Keillor’s singing comes thru the radio from A Prairie Home Companion waves of nostalgia wash over you. The same is true for the movie version of his acclaimed radio broadcast directed by Robert Altman. In the end it isn’t relevant where truth separates from fiction – the ride is all that matters.
A Prairie Home Companion gives a birds eye view into the last performance of a variety radio show – the kind of show that, as Axeman (Tommy Lee Jones) puts it, “died 50 years ago only somebody forgot to tell these people”. Axeman’s big time corporation has bought the famous Fitzgerald theatre which houses the broadcast with plans to turn it into a parking lot.
It is hard to know where the real life radio variety show helmed by Keillor stops and the fictional account of the movie begins. But that is part of the fun. It is as if Keillor (who wrote the script) and Altman have taken the structure of the radio show where musical numbers and sketches are intermixed and have applied it to the film. Musical interludes are shown “on stage” while “sketches” are replaced with the backstage antics of the cast. This works in a nice back and forth rhythm.
Keeping this rhythm in time is the amazing cast drawn in unique character roles. For those who are familiar with the radio show your favorite jingles and characters have come to life. Meryl Streep and Lilly Tolmin have a ball with their homey stories as singing sisters Yolanda and Rhonda Johnson. When one stops talking the other starts without missing a beat. Lindsay Lohan manages to hold her own as Streep’s suicide obsessed poem-writing daughter.
And to further blur truth and fiction are characters from the radio show who have come alive. Kevin Kline has brought to life bumbling private eye Guy Noir with such certainty it is hard to believe that he began as a fictional radio show character. Not a movement is wasted. Woody Harrelson and John C. Reilly have a ball with Dusty and Lefty the singing cowboys. You can practically see the grit on them and their song “Bad Jokes” filled with double entendres is not to be missed. And in the middle of it all is Keillor, playing a version of himself as grand master with impenetrable deadpanned delivery.
However the delicate balance of real and not so real it set off kilter by the wandering Dangerous Woman (Virginia Madsen). She is a beautiful otherworldly presence that has come to the show for celestial reasons. Some people can see her and other can’t. Ultimately the Dangerous Woman proves distracting and lives up to her name by being dangerous to the movie and causing the audience to loose focus one too many times. The Axeman’s arrival does the same thing. While his decision to turn the studio into a parking lot has lead to this last performance the time he spends in the film seems forced.
But whatever damage the Dangerous Woman or Axeman does you can take comfort in auditory experience of the film. Altman’s style of overlapping dialogue is especially suited to this forum. Altman provides a voyeuristic peep back stage that catches all the best bits. And the music pervades the film is the same as that on the radio show, folksy with hilarious and heartfelt lyrics.
In the end it depends on what kind of experience you crave. A focused straightforward piece that keeps you on the edge of your seat this is not. But if you are looking for something to keep you company on a nice quite Saturday evening this movie, or the radio show on which it is based, will do just fine.If you are looking for something to keep you company on a nice quite Saturday evening this movie, or the radio show on which it is based, will do just fine.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 South By Southwest Film Festival For more in the 2006 South By Southwest Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 U.S. Comedy Arts Festival For more in the 2006 U.S. Comedy Arts Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 San Francisco Film Festival For more in the 2006 San Francisco Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2006 Seattle Film Festival For more in the 2006 Seattle Film Festival series, click here.