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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 Mel Valentin

"A minor film from a major filmmaker. Enjoyable, but far from innovative."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2006 SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Written by Garrison Keillor and directed by Robert Altman ("Gosford Park," "The Player," "Nashville," "The Long Goodbye," "M.A.S.H."), "A Prairie Home Companion" takes a fictionalized, backstage look Keillor's long-running radio show as it winds down on its last night (thanks to a corporate buyout and a bottom line decision to end the show's presumably unprofitable or semi-profitable run). Although Keillor wrote the screenplay, it's Altman's show all the way. At 80, Altman is still in fine form, dipping back into a bag of familiar tricks (e.g., large ensemble cast, overlapping, semi-improvised dialogue and storylines, fluid long takes that drift and circle around the cast). For those unfamiliar with Keillor's show or Altman's previous work, though, "A Prairie Home Companion" may have less to offer.

Centering on Keillor's merry band of performers on their last night before the radio show is cancelled, A Prairie Home Companion's large cast includes Keillor as the laconic, unflappable emcee, the resident narrator/noir detective parody, Guy Noir (Kevin Kline), the Johnson Girls, Yolanda (Meryl Streep) and Rhonda (Lily Tomlin), Yolanda's chronically depressed daughter, Lola (Lindsay Lohan), singing cowboys, Dusty (Woody Harrelson) and Lefty (John C. Reilly), the about-to-deliver stage hand, Molly (Maya Rudolph), a corporate shill identified only as the Axeman (Tommy Lee Jones), a senior couple in love (or lust), Chuck Akers (L.Q. Jones) and the Lunch Lady (Marylouise Burke), and an enigmatic blonde in a white trench coat variously described as dangerous or crazy (Virginia Madsen).

Story wise, well actually there's little story in A Prairie Home Companion. As news spreads of the impending demise of the radio show, Guy tries to change the Axeman's mind, Keillor resigns himself to the show's fate despite the objections of his fellow performers, the Johnson Girls reminisce about their shared history together while Lola looks on disinterestedly, Dusty and Lefty make off-color jokes (to the displeasure of the stage manager), the enigmatic woman floats in and out of the proceedings, gradually revealing herself to be neither crazy nor dangerous (at least for most of the characters), the senior couple make plans for a romantic escapade, and the performers go on stage to share their most cherished songs with their rapidly dwindling audiences at home and in the theater.

A Prairie Home Companion teeters close to blandness, thanks to offensive, gentle humor and a drama-free screenplay by Garrison Keillor, but at least it never wallows in sentimentality (a usual component of nostalgia). The pairings are strong, due primarily to the actors involved and their chemistry together, but the situations and conflicts that result from those situations are far too ephemeral to register with most viewers. Outside of the overarching "last show" plot point, the minor conflict between Yolanda and Lola, or Guy's pursuit of the unnamed woman, Keillor's script spends most of its time in observation mode, either observing the performers bickering or exchanging pleasantries backstage or performing in front of the audience.

Ultimately, it's hard to imagine an audience for "A Prairie Home Companion" beyond aging fans of Keillor's long-running radio show. Of course, the all-star cast helps to elevate the material, especially Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin as the Johnson sisters, Woody Harrelson and John C. Reilly as singing cowboys and, to a lesser extent, Kevin Kline as a parodic version of a noir detective. Lindsay Lohan's detractors will be disappointed. Her role is too small and, when she’s given a character moment or two, she holds her own with the more experienced (and yes, more talented) actors in the cast (her vocal range, though, seems limited). As for where "A Prairie Home Companion" fits into Altman's oeuvre, think of it as a minor work from a major filmmaker. For most fans of Altman's work, that should be enough.

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originally posted: 06/10/06 04:19:06
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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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