A Prairie Home Companion (2006)

DVD Cover (New Line Studios)
Genres: Americana, Comedy, Ensemble Film, Showbiz Comedy
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. --IMDb
Robert Altman Robert Altman
Marylouise Burke Marylouise Burke
Woody Harrelson Woody Harrelson
L.Q. Jones L.Q. Jones
Tommy Lee Jones Tommy Lee Jones
Garrison Keillor Garrison Keillor

6.7 / 10 - Overall Rating

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Review by bluemeanie
Added: June 14, 2006
This subject matter has a special place in my heart. I was born in Red Wing, Minnesota, and spent the first five years of my life there. Red Wing is only about half an hour outside of St. Paul, so you can believe I knew quite a bit about "A Prairie Home Companion", a radio show I listened to all the time when I was younger. My parents adored the show, everyone in Red Wing adored the show, and I adored the show. When my parents moved back to Alabama, the show was here also, though it was not quite as popular as it had been back up North. "A Prairie Home Companion", like director Robert Altman, is something you either love or hate. However, even those who hate them have to respect them. This was a magical film, from top to bottom, and there was not an insincere bone in its cinematic body. It comes from the heart. It comes from the mind of a man who has the words of a poet, the compassion of an angel, and the spirit of one millions fireworks going off in unison under a lazy Arizona sky. "A Prairie Home Companion" is not just the best film of 2006, but the best Robert Altman film since "Short Cuts". It weaves together one of the richest and most endearing two hours a person could spend at the theatre, and I cannot wait to see it again tomorrow.

Above all else, "A Prairie Home Companion" is about the span of things. It teaches that all things have a beginning and an end, but what matters is the stuff in between. The film finds "A Prairie Home Companion" performing its final show at the Fitzgerland Theatre, having been sold to a company that wants to tear down the theatre and turn it into a parking lot. Everything in the cast and crew knows this is likely the final performance, though all are hesitant to admit it to themselves. Kevin Kline stars as Guy Noir, the head of security, who tries his best to prevent the show from closing. He also serves as narrator and takes us in and out of the story like an old 1950's detective tale. The film mixes together the kinetic energy of the radio show with the backstage antics of the cast and crew, as well as a little supernatural essence, with Virginia Madsen starring as The Dangerous Woman, an angel whose human self was killed while listening to the program and now watches over it like a beacon of support and charity. Tommy Lee Jones descends in the second act at The Axeman, who doesn't really care what the show means to so many people, and merely wants his water, with no ice and no lemon. The film covers the span of the radio show, and ends not long after the final "Red River" finale.

What makes these performances so special is that you can tell these actors had a genuine love for what they were doing. All of the actors here provide their own vocals, and their faces light up with each word and each chord. Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin are at their dramatic and comedic bests as Rhona and Yolanda Johnson, the two sisters who dedicate everything to 'mama'. Woody Harrelson and John C. Reilly inject several notes of madcap humor into the mix as cowboys Dusty and Lefty, including a hilarious little five minute number entitled "Bad Jokes". Kevin Kline gets the most physical role in the show and he works the slapstick like a charm, as only he can. Virginia Madsen is radiant, as always, in the most unusual, yet most emotionally heartfelt, role in the film. And, then there is Garrison Keillor, the creator of the show and the author of this script. As with the radio program, he steals the show here by playing himself. He is a man who loves what he does with all of his heart, but knows that it has to come to an end and that there will always be a light at the end of the tunnel. He has a matter-of-fact way of handling everything and he does it with such grace and humanity, even when others question what he is doing and how he is doing it, as when an old cast members is discovered dead and he refuses to acknowledge his passing on the air. When asked by Lindsay Lohan if he would want to be remembered when he dies, he replies, "Yes, but I don't want people to be told to remember me." That is Garrison Keillor summed up in one simple phrase.

Though in his eighties, Robert Altman is in top form here. This film reminded me of the Robert Altman of old, the "Nashville" Altman and the "M*A*S*H" Altman. He hit all the right notes and nailed the pacing and the progression of this plot. I loved how he intertwined the onstage performances with the backstage happenings, and this ending was something out of a fairy tale. I love how he perfectly captured the backstage atmosphere of a variety radio program, and then inserted little moments of utmost sincerity and heart, as when the Lunchlady finds her boyfriend dead and has the sweetest moment in the entire film. Altman handled this scene masterfully, and it does not drag the film down in the slightest. I just sat there, glued to the screen, waiting to see what Keillor and Altman threw at me next. "A Prairie Home Companion" is just one of those films you see, and know that you are better off for having seen it. It might not be for all audiences, but no film is, and seldom is a Robert Altman film. The highlight of the entire film, for me, was the ending, with all of the old faces sitting in the diner, talking about everything from a reunion to pensions - just casual talk from casual people who use to get together and perform a little magic for thousands of listeners.

I have said it once and I will say it again - "A Prairie Home Companion" was the best film of the year and the best Robert Altman film since "Short Cuts". Parts gave me goosebumps, parts made me split a rib, and parts made me understand that this was a film that really gives the audience something more than two hours worth of forgettable entertainment - it gives them something they can take with them, and use - practically - for the rest of their lives. I recommend this film far and wide, to just about every age range and demographic possible. You might like it. You might not. Either way, you will have at least watched it and understand what it wants to do. I have not been this thoroughly entertained in a long while and it will take one hell of a 2006 to do more than this film did. Kudos to Garrison Keillor. Kudos to Robert Altman. And, kudos to all the listeners who tuned in to WLT long enough to make this motion picture a reality.

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