Based on a public radio show of the same name, A Prairie Home Companion focuses on the last night of a show that ran for 30 years in Minnesota.  The characters aren’t fully developed, but that their backgrounds are not fully revealed is quite fitting.  As is often is the case, what people say or do doesn’t matter as much as how they make you feel.  A Prairie Home Companion provides a glimpse of the final night of a long-running show, a final curtain call for the characters within the story, and above all, one final feature film for Robert Altman just prior to his death in 2006.

The Players:

  • Director:  Robert Altman
  • Writer:  Garrison Keillor
  • Cast:  Garrison Keillor, Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin, Lindsay Lohan, Woody Harrelson, John C. Reilly, Tommy Lee Jones, Kevin Kline, Virginia Madsen, Maya Rudolph

Notes:

As we’ve come to expect from an Altman film, there are no cinematic introductions.  When Guy Noir’s (Kevin Kline) voice-over provides exposition, he walks onto the set of A Prairie Home Companion on its last night of recording, and we’re immediately thrown backstage onto a show where everyone already knows each other.  The genius of this film is how it seamlessly integrates the recording of a show while also providing a window into the lives around it.  When Yolanda Johnson (Streep) reflects about previous relationships with Garrison Keillor (Keillor), she becomes deeply involved in conversation only to effortlessly interrupt herself by breaking into song on the air.  As they she sings you enjoy the music as though you were an audience member in the theater, but thanks to their recently discussed intimate feelings, you remain aware that they are real people.

It is difficult to ignore that this was Altman’s last film, especially in the film’s more reflective moments about life.  The Asphodel (Virginia Madsen) character – serving as an angel of death – presents a compelling link between subject matter and Altman’s very own last living days.  A Prairie Home Companion evokes a state of introspection of what it means to be alive.  In a mystical way, it invites us to think about how we live, reminding us that just like a show that comes to an end, the world is a set event and we are momentarily allowed to be in it.

Brief Words for Mr. Ebert:

I agree when you say that “we get an immediate feel for the dressing room, the lulls between numbers, the history and memories that all dressing rooms contain and evoke.”  The tone of this film is so effectively established and maintained that you can feel how much Altman understood the essence of what he wanted to capture.  When you say that “the film is a loving evocation of the program”, I agree.  Despite an ensemble cast, nothing detracts from conveying the companionship that the actual radio program must have provided to millions of people.  To direct an ensemble cast like this and not have them detract from the essence of the program it sought to recreate is in many ways nothing short of a miracle.  A Prairie Home Companion is a loving evocation of what it means to realize that life if fleeting.  I don’t feel like I watched a movie, I feel as though I just had an experience.

Good, Bad or Great Movie:  GOOD

Do you like ?  Do you consider this film to be Good, Bad, or does it stand up as Great?

Next week’s review:  Through a Glass Darkly

Years ago, ScreenCrave contributor Jaime Lopez privately began tackling Roger Ebert’s “Greatest Films” list, an ever-expanding monolith of celluloid currently comprised of 354 films.  Lopez has set himself to put these remaining films’ “Greatness” to the test–reviewing both the movies themselves and Ebert’s response.  By taking on Robert Altman’s A Prairie Home Companion this week, he now has 281 under his belt and less than 100 films left to go.