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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 19.74%
Average: 28.95%
Pretty Bad: 10.53%
Total Crap: 10.53%

8 reviews, 28 user ratings

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Prairie Home Companion, A
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by Matt Seaver

"A sole survivor of another era... and I'm glad they're still kicking."
5 stars

I admit that it was odd watching a film about the fictional last performance of a show with the history of ďA Prairie Home Companion,Ē considering that Iíve never heard a minute of the show. One would think that would lessen some of the gravity and weight the film might have otherwise held. Luckily, Robert Altman is really, really good at telling character-based stories and Garrison Keillor really, really knows about what he writes.

The film follows the perspective of Guy Noir (Kevin Kline), the private eye-turned-head of security for the show, which broadcasts from the Fitzgerald Theatre in St. Paul, Minnesota. Unfortunately, a broadcasting company from Texas has bought the theater, and plans to turn it into a nice new parking lot, evicting the show from its home, and presumably from the airwaves all together. On this last performance, a number of strange and unique events occur, but the show goes on, as it had since 1974. We see the live broadcast interspersed with backstage moments and conversations between castmates as they slowly move toward the idea of doing something else with their lives.

I give a whole lot of credit to Garrison Keillor for this one, because only he could really capture the proper tone of this thing that he had built from the ground up. In addition to playing himself, Keillor has populated the stage with coexisting versions of his ever-present characters - Noir, Dusty and Lefty (Woody Harrelson and John C. Riley), and Keillor himself - the old-timey singing Johnson Sisters (Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin), and a full assortment of guest performers and techies, many played by current cast members of the program. Heís blended them in a way that allows you to very easily follow everyone without any need to know anything about their previous lives. All you need to know is that this show is important to them, and its death is a sad occasion. From there, the relationships and conversations will carry the rest.

In an ensemble this huge, itís great to be able to say that everyone holds their own, but that doesnít mean some people donít steal some scenes. For my money, Dusty and Lefty are the best the film can offer. First, their performance on the show is damn near priceless Ė the ďBad JokesĒ song had me laughing harder than anything else. Second, they develop such a great banter between the two of them that itís no wonder they became two of Keillorís most popular characters. Also, Virginia Madsen has the most interesting part in the film as a mysterious woman clad completely in white who wanders through the theater, occasionally interacting with the performers during their most vital moments.

Keillor himself plays a key role, as well he should, but he does not flatter himself with overwhelming screen time. He is sure to allow everyone proper coverage. I got the impression that a lot of the screen time he got during his radio performances in the film came down more to Robert Altman, in an effort to capture the flow and temperament of the program.

Even some of the people I normally donít care for made themselves tolerable Ė Meryl Streep and Lindsay Lohan top that list. Streep is playing ďThe middle-aged Meryl Streep characterĒ with enough of a history that itís not the usual bland performance I am used to from her, and Lohan, though clearly out of her league in talent and experience, holds her own as Streepís daughter Lola, though itís not surprising Ė sheís playing a girl who canít connect with her motherís life, which is so blatantly from another era. Lohan ability to bridge that gap by the end of the film is commendable, though.

For Altmanís part, I figure he was there more as a guiding hand and ďthe visual guyĒ more than anything else, because Keillor is the one suited to guide this film. Added to Altmanís questionable health, I can see why a lot of the direction is very basic and simple, and in this case, itís really all that is needed. Altman adds flairs when they wonít be too distracting, but for the most part, as he has done many times before (most recent to my memory is the wonderfulGosford Park), he sets his camera, sits back and shows off his characters. He shoots by necessity, and that fits the show very well.

Iím sure there will be those who completely missed this generation, and canít appreciate the film as a peek into another world, but theyíre missing out. They will find the film long, or boring, or aimless, but itís reality-plus. There are unrealistic elements, sure, but when the radio broadcast goes off the airÖ this is probably how these people live. Whether thatís foreign or eerily familiar, audiences ought to appreciate that honesty.

This is good, harmless, family friendly entertainment. There are a couple risquť jokes, but nothing close to what youíll see on network TV. As I said, Iíve never heard the show, but the film gave me an appreciation for the tradition at the very least. It will indeed be a sad day when A Prairie Home Companion signs off for the last time, but now this film will allow a great window into that chunk of history after other options are gone. Itís a sweet little gem with a ton of good people. Whether youíre an old fan of the show or if youíve never even heard it, youíll find something to make you smile here.

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originally posted: 07/07/06 03:50:43
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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.

User Comments

3/27/16 FireWithFire Altman's swan song. As badly made as every Altman film before it 1 stars
6/10/08 CzarChasm Not at ALL what I expected -- FFd thru the DVD for the most part. 2 stars
3/03/08 ladavies this should have been so much better 3 stars
10/10/07 mr.mike surprisingly entertaining 4 stars
8/05/07 ravenmad i fell aslepp twice, no three times. didn't care to catch the tail end. Sorry. 1 stars
5/03/07 David Pollastrini Lindsay Lohan looked hot in this! 3 stars
3/11/07 Ryan_A Actually quite charming, if minda meandering. Cast is marvelous (even La Lohan) 4 stars
12/20/06 Monday Morning Like every other Altman film, virtually unwatchable. 2 stars
12/05/06 Travis A really nice, fun movie 4 stars
12/03/06 colichops one person's "gossamer construction" is another person's "so what?". 1 stars
11/30/06 bubba This movie sucks, Altman totally screwed up a good idea. Why did they use actors? 1 stars
11/10/06 nora If you know and love the radio show- it's great fun- if not- don't bother- it will make no 4 stars
11/02/06 KAREN MATLOCK People who don't listen to the radio show won't like it. I loved it! 5 stars
10/27/06 Tiffany Losco I actually liked this one. 4 stars
10/25/06 Vikki boring, disapointing and pointless! 1 stars
10/23/06 Judy I loved the songs and jokes, but didn't care much for the story. 3 stars
10/15/06 William Goss Like a grin, with comedic high points connected by large troughs of boredom. 3 stars
10/05/06 Helen Bradley Boring boring boring 1 stars
8/17/06 Pn. Too spooky if Altman were to die and this was his last film... 5 stars
7/27/06 Anna Orith Very sweet and occasionally aching funny 4 stars
6/25/06 anne papke made me feel so comfortable, like I was right in the radio audience 5 stars
6/18/06 John Dooley A lovely, touching, beautiful movie. Great cast, everyone, including Marylouise Burke. 5 stars
6/17/06 Christina Did a middle schooler write this? What a disappointment. 1 stars
6/15/06 Billy go outside 1 stars
6/12/06 Dani Such a warm, spirited movie. Bravo! 5 stars
6/12/06 t stewart Very funny moments, ad hoc music video style 4 stars
6/11/06 San Lamar i liked it, great performances by great actors 4 stars
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  09-Jun-2006 (PG-13)
  DVD: 10-Oct-2006



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