A Prairie Home Companion Photo

A Prairie Home Companion

Starring: Woody Harrelson, Tommy Lee Jones, Garrison Keillor, Kevin Kline, Lindsay Lohan

Directed by: Robert Altman

RS: 3.5of 4 Stars Average User Rating: 3of 4 Stars

2006 Picturehouse All Movies

Director Robert Altman and writer Garrison Keillor join forces with an all-star cast to create a comic backstage fable, "A Prairie Home Companion," about a fictitious radio variety show that has managed to survive in the age of television. On a rainy Saturday night in St. Paul, Minn., fans file into the Fitzgerald Theater to see "A Prairie Home Companion," a staple of radio station WLT, not knowing that WLT has been sold to a Texas conglomerate and that tonight's show will be the last. Shot entirely in the Fitzgerald, except for the opening and closing scenes which take place in a nearby diner, the picture combines Altman's cinematic style and intelligence and love of improvisation and Keillor's songs and storytelling to create a fictional counterpart to the actual "A Prairie Home Companion" radio show, which has heard on public radio stations coast to coast for the past quarter-century (and which, in real life, continues to broadcast). The result is a compact tale with a series of extraordinary acting turns.

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Director Robert Altman thinks it's about death. Writer Garrison Keillor thinks it's a light comedy. They're both right. But this screen take on Keillor's three-decades-running public-radio show, A Prairie Home Companion, is something else as well: a delectable antidote to the hard-sell sideshow of Hollywood. Prairie goes down so easy that you probably won't notice at first how artfully it's done. Take your time and relax into a movie that's as comfy as Keillor's pillowy baritone. Minnesota's Keillor has concocted a death-wish fantasy, imagining that it's curtains for his radio variety show, broadcast from the Fitzgerald Theater in downtown St. Paul. A big corporation from Dubya's Texas has sent in an ax man (Tommy Lee Jones). What we're seeing is the last performance with Keillor, as GK, playing ringmaster onstage and off. Camera whiz Ed Lachman bathes this valedictory in shimmering color and light. Altman, as he has from Nashville to Gosford Park, assembles a dream cast. A luminous Meryl Streep, playing it loose and funny and true as singer Yolanda Johnson, fits in snugly with an ensemble that includes the treasurable Lily Tomlin as her sister Rhonda. Their duet on ''Goodbye to My Mama'' is a beaut. Altman says his movies are all in the casting; he just watches. Don't buy it. Other filmmakers who try to match his alchemy with actors fall flat on their fat ones. Altman, 81, is still a master at the top of his game. He even brings out the best in Lindsay Lohan as Yolanda's daughter Lola, who writes suicide poetry. Lohan rises to the occasion, delivering a rock-the-house version of ''Frankie and Johnny.'' The songs, sung live with Keillor's Shoe Band, exude an uncanned charm. They can also be howlingly comic when warbled by John C. Reilly and Woody Harrelson (''I'll give you my moonshine/If you show me your jugs''). When the sexy angel of death (Virginia Madsen) slips past security, in the person of Kevin Kline's Guy Noir, the plot thickens. Not too much, though. Keillor loves corn but not syrup. After a performer dies backstage, Yolanda asks GK for a moment of silence. His response: ''Silence on the radio -- I don't know how that works.'' I don't know how this movie works either, only that it does. For those, me included, who used to think of Keillor's radio program as tepid, self-indulgent, repetitive and flat, you might even call it a revelation. Take a swig of this moonshine. There's magic in it.



PETER TRAVERS

(Posted: Jun, 1 2006)

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