A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION
The ex-PI, now security guard (Kevin Kline) at the Fitzgerald Theatre tells the story of the last episode of Garrison Keillor's famous, long running live variety radio show, which is coming to end as a new owner (Tommy Lee Jones) has bought the theatre, intending to tear it down. But a mysterious woman in a white trenchcoat (Virginia Madsen) seems to be haunting the theater ... The show's cast includes the singing Johnson Sisters, Rhonda and Yolanda (Lily Tomlin and Meryl Streep), along with Lola (Lindsay Lohan) the suicide-obsessed daughter of Yolanda; and the slightly off-color singing cowboy duo, Dusty & Lefty (Woody Harrelson and John C. Reilly). Emotions are high as the old troupers face their farewell performances.
Review by Louise Keller:
Robert Altman's life affirming and spirited blend of music, reflection and humour whisks us on and back stage for the live recording of A Prairie Home Companion's last show. There is no transition between what happens on stage and in the dressing rooms or the wings, as artists make up, chat, reminisce and rehearse. Dipping into phrases from songs is simply an extension of who they are and what they are saying. Skilfully and seamlessly woven together like an intricate tapestry with all its fine colours and textures, Altman and writer Garrison Keillor collaborate to create a hugely enjoyable work, brought vividly to life by its multi-talented cast.
Keillor, who based the story on his 30 years experience of hosting the radio variety program, incorporates the whole gamut that life has on offer - ditties about toilet humour to profound issues of mortality. 'Every show is your last show,' says Keillor's MC and never-floundering host, who binds everything together, amid never-ending onstage changes and chaos. Music is the platform on which the artists are allowed to shine. I couldn't take my eyes off the luminous Meryl Streep, as she sings her heart out with her onscreen country music sister played by Lily Tomlin. Their songs are personal anecdotes with music, which is one of the reasons why we feel so personally connected. Singing cowboys John C. Reilly and Woody Harrelson amuse with ditties that spit out bad-jokes, eye-rolling stories about topics as unlikely as a stolen Viagra shipment and the likelihood of diarrhoea being hereditary. Classical, jazz, country and bluegrass lasso us into a compulsive, addictive environment, where toes keep tappin' and souls are swingin'.
The only element that is not entirely successful, is the film noir beginning with Kevin Kline's smooth-talking security ace, which acts as a bridge to Virginia Madsen's enigmatic white trench-coat clad blonde 'angel'. It is slightly at odds with the mood of the rest of the film, although overall, it detracts little. In addition to the songbook of musical standards, Keillor's music and lyrics for advertising jingles (baked beans, shoes, rhubarb pie and duct tape) are a source for great amusement. Especially when sound effect genius Tom Keith adds his live FX of barking dogs or crashing glass.
Reassuringly, Altman has not lost his touch. This latest welcome addition to his diverse body of work is both sophisticated and simple, complicated yet straightforward, and always engrossing.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The gentle, wistful quality that floods Robert Altman's latest film is accompanied by a robust sensibility about life's raw elements, together with a sense of humour and a playfulness with the afterlife which levitates the film. Altman's abiding love of music (eg Nashville, The Company) as a backdrop for his stories fills his cinematic sails as he cruises into the waters of nostalgia. But he tinges that amber glow with some blues and blacks, enough to make the film a textured and engaging work.
His best trick is turning a slight story around the impending closure of a live radio variety show into something approaching profound comment on human nature, through asides and vignettes that take place simultaneously with performances on stage. The radio show is real and Garrison Keillor is real: he wrote it and is hosting it after more than 30 years, a national event treasured by four million listeners every week. In this film, though, the show is in a parallel universe, except instead of its national (and international) reach, it is a mid-West fixture in St Paul, Minnesota ... and the prairie surrounding it.
The music varies from pop and country to jazz and folk, and is one of the film's strengths, as is the well chosen setting inside one of those fine old theatres that give country towns some of their soul.
If there is a weakness, it's the treatment of Guy Noir's character (Kevin Kline), the wanna be hard boiled private eye reduced to working as security guard; bordering on farce, his accident prone self importance undercut by self delusion, he unbalances some scenes, especially in tandem with the film's other great risk: the 'Dangerous Lady' or angel (Virginia Madsen) character. But Madsen is so beguiling she (and Altman) gets away with it.
The entire cast - and not forgetting Tom Keith as the sound effects man, who has a brilliant cameo - soaks up the Altman-inspired, Keillor-driven atmosphere and spits it out like they'd been doing this for 30 years.
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GARRISON KEILLOR INTERVIEW
A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION (PG)
CAST: Garrison Keillor, Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin, Kevin Kline, Lindsay Lohan, John C. Reilly, Woody Harrelson, Virginia Madsen, Tommy Lee Jones, Maya Rudolph, Marylouise Burke, L.Q. Jones
PRODUCER: Robert Altman, Wren Arthur, Joshua Astrachan, Tony Judge, David Levy
DIRECTOR: Robert Altman
SCRIPT: Garrison Keillor
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Edward Lachman
EDITOR: Jacob Craycroft
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Dina Goldman
RUNNING TIME: 105 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Magna Pacific/Hoyts
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 5, 2006
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Magna Pacific
VIDEO RELEASE: February 7, 2007