A Prairie Home Companion (2006)

Lily Tomlin, Meryl Streep, Woody Harrelson, John C. Reilly,
A look at what goes on backstage during the last broadcast of America's most celebrated radio show, where singing cowboys Dusty and Lefty, a country music siren, and a host of others hold court.
  • 6.7 /10.0 IMDB Rating:
  • DatePublished:
  • 2018-09-07 Added:
  • Garrison Keillor, Ken LaZebnik, Writer:
  • Robert Altman, Director:
  • Wren Arthur, Joshua Astrachan, Tony Judge, Producer:


9/10 / 10

A Prairie Home Companion

rating: 3.5 out of 4

In truth, I'm not one to worship Robert Altman. His films—barring therarities—have been, for me, mostly inconsequential. They're wispy andlighthearted and mostly nonchalant. They work, but on a momentarybasis; acting like a bubble that bursts the second the lights go up.Most of the same can be said about A Prairie Home Companion. Only, thistime is simply works better.

Garrison Keillor who penned the "A Prairie Home Companion" radio showalso works the fingers behind the typewriter for its film adaptation.His script has a kind of "concentrated structure" to it; it's durationrunning throughout "A Prairie Home Companion's" final live broadcastedshow. He balances onstage performance between backstage interactions,the camera smoothly swirling amongst the audience, the stage, and theinner workings of the theatre.

If Altman flashed the negative to achieve a washed-out look for TheLong Goodbye, he did quite the opposite for A Prairie Home Companion.The cinematography is rich and sensational, often whirling betweendifferent sets in long, gorgeously extended shots. This isn't yourtypical backstage DV debacle; but the work of a director at the veryheight of his career.

The cast is yet another stunning ensemble, most of them probablyflocking to Altman's direction. Beat this: Meryl Streep, WoodyHarrelson, Kevin Kline, Lily Tomlin, Virginia Madsen, Tommy Lee Jones,Lindsay Lohan, John C.Reilly, and Garrison Keillor. Yeah. The beauty ofthe film is that none of these actors quite seem to be acting.Attribute this to Altman's classic overlapping dialogue, but don'tforget to bow your heads to the performers as well. Often I'm annoyedby Altman's stubborn persistence with overlapping dialogue. I'll arguethat when Altman should be trying to make cinema, he insists onimitating real life. But with A Prairie Home Companion, the overlappingdialogue is mandatory. Altman's best when he's making a film mostlyabout people and not about story. This is most obvious here. My onecomplaint with the film is its aversion to storyline. But this isn'ttoo much of a problem because A Prairie Home Companion is, if nothingelse, about the people of the radio show. This is a story about humanbeings, where overlapping dialogue is only expected.

The story finds itself toeing the line with magical realism. VirginiaMadsen plays The Dangerous Woman, who Guy Noir (Kevin Kline) firstdescribes as a femme fatale, and later as an angel. As she convinces usof her divinity, Noir finds a way to use her as an assassin to ward offthe buyers of the radio show. This fantasy element works only toheighten the vibrancy of the rest of the film, where feet stay firmlyplanted to reality. Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin play the singingsisters Yolanda and Rhonda Johnson, with Lindsay Lohan as their gloomydaughter Lola. The three, as contrasting as the actors are on paper,flit about in a realm of familial nostalgia, with Lola penciling outher suicidal songs and scoffing beside their make-up mirrors. John C.Reilly and Woody Harrelson are Dusty and Lefty, the singing cowboys whocrack dirty jokes backstage and jerk the chain of censorship with Al(Tim Russell), the stage manager. Chuck Akers (L.Q. Jones) and Evelyn(Marylouise Burke) are the elderly lovebirds who chase a potentiallyfatal lovemaking. And holding all these characters together is GarrisonKeillor, whose nostalgia is matched only by his pragmatism and lack ofsentimentality towards the show's demise. His performance is probablythe most memorable, as the picture is fuller when he strolls aboutwithin it, offering truth to the blind antics of some of the otherroles with his endless cache of stories.

A Prairie Home Companion's bubble doesn't burst as the lights go up.Instead, we find ourselves wishing the show would go on and theperformers keep up doing their crazy little acts. This is Altman in hiselement; where humans are meant to be portrayed as humans. It's stilllighthearted and mostly nonchalant, sure, but it's also about nostalgiaand reminiscence, and the beauty that surrounds a family built behindthe red curtains and a WLT microphone.

/ 10

"It's not true that I had nothing on. I had the radio on." MarilynMonroe about posing nude on her famous calendar.

If there is anyone more laid back or brighter than Garrison Keillor inshow business, let me know, because Robert Altman's A Prairie HomeCompanion, based on Keillor's long-running Minnesota Public Radio saga,shows Keillor as an audience sees him each week—like a god gentlyguiding an eccentric ensemble through excellent performances made tolook as easy as his demeanor. This film stands near Altman's Nashvilleas a testimony to the director's gift for sustaining strong charactersin layers of dialogue approximating overlapping conversations at aninteresting party.

Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin as the singing country Johnson sistersbring back memories of Reese Witherspoon's amazing turn as June Carterand Streep's own previous country singer in Postcards. Ditto WoodyHarrelson and John C. Reilly as the singing and joking Dusty and Lefty.But best of all is Kevin Kline as Keillor's real radio creation, GuyNoir, the '40's dapper, inquisitive, naughty narrator and security headfor the production. Klein embodies the melancholic mood always at leasthidden underneath any show's last show, despite Keillor's nonchalantassertion that every show is your "last show." Around this realistic,charming premise of talented performers at their last performance,writer Keillor interjects a ghostly beauty in a white leather trenchcoat, Virginia Madsen playing Dangerous Woman, the spirit of death,gently accompanying those about to die and the moribund show itself.The character is a lyrical embodiment of the theme that nothing lastsbut the love shared in any experience. Keillor remains in characterafter someone dies by stating he doesn't "do eulogies." Nor does he doone for the show, which in real life still lasts in St. Paul from 1974.

So enjoyable are Altman, his ubiquitous HD camera, and his busydialogue that you feel a part of the proceedings, catching the sweetsmell of success for everyone attached to this thoroughly realized songof love to theater, music, and creativity.

9/10 / 10

The movie opens with a view of rural Minnesota, accompanied by 1950'sradio...music, farm report, commodity prices, etc. It quickly moves toMickey's Diner, an establishment located just a few blocks from theFitzgerald Theater in downtown St. Paul, Minnesota. There we see GuyNoir, whose job is managing security for the "A Prairie Home Companion"radio program. Soon we are in the theater, preparing for the liveperformance of the radio program. Virtually all the remainder of themovie happens in the Fitzgerald.

Note: I have attended two APHC performances in the Fitzgerald, and haveeaten in Mickey's Diner. The exteriors in the movie are all real, andthe stage, the sets and auditorium shots of the Fitzgerald are likewisegenuine. Even a brief shot of a church near the theater, toward the endof the movie, is genuine. You can see some photos at PHCFan.com. Thestage action in the movie is just like it happens in real life. Whetherthe dressing-room scenes and GK's disregard for deadlines are similarto real-life, I don't know.

During much of the movie we are puzzled by a mysterious woman in whitewho has certainly caught Guy Noir's eye...her garments are so tight hecan "read the embroidery on her panties." She walks calmly around thestage and through the set during the show itself. We learn her identityin the second half of the movie.

The real-life Sue Scott plays a hairdresser in the movie, a speakingrole. Even if you don't recognize her face you will recognize hervoice. All the other regulars seem to play themselves.

The movie audience really enjoyed the movie. We laughed heartily at thejokes, and applauded at the end. It is a feel-good movie, a must-seefor fans of the weekly radio program.

8/10 / 10

Who knew that Lindsay Lohan could deliver a performance of thiscaliber? My friends and I, all movie aficionados, were stunned by herperformance, albeit a supporting role. I never EVER thought I wouldutter those words. As mentioned earlier, Lohan's real acting debut ishere.

Still, her's is highlighted by a magnificent ensemble, particularlyTomlin and Streep, who give dazzling performances. After all theseyears, they've still got it- and Tomlin, an Altman favorite, isparticularly up to par with the snap-and-go dialogue.

As always, his direction must be taken with a grain of salt- you eitherlove him or hate him, but the performances are what make this filmsoar.


8/10 / 10

Robert Altman's "A Prairie Home Companion" is light, fluffy and fun,much like the radio show. As long as audiences keep this in mind,they'll be sold like Rhubarb pie and duct tape advertised during thebroadcast.

The outstandingly cast ensemble and Altman's signature directing stylestitch a flowing patchwork of laughs and tinges of nostalgia. Streepand Tomlin are dynamic together (and sing beautifully!), and Klinecarries much of the film's comedy on his capable shoulders. The filmrepresents a bygone era that the people of the show are still livingin. Only Virginia Madsen, Lindsay Lohan and Tommy Lee Jones representthe outsiders to the otherwise coherent culture of the show, and as thefilm progresses, affect it and are affected by it in different ways.

I generally prefer films, however comic or fun they are, to have somedeeper themes. But unlike the multi-layered theater that most of thefilm takes place in, there's nothing really behind the scenes here-it's art for arts sake. However, I still enjoyed the film and amactually relieved it didn't bog down in anything too serious.

Whether audiences are fans of the radio show or not, the film's worthits weight in Narco Bran Flakes.