An Ode to 'Prairie'
Fill the air with old-time tunes.
Add bad jokes by two buffoons.
Mix in jingles sung by the host,
a man more stoic and wry than most.
Cast talented stars as radio guests,
plus one to shine for being blessed,
and one to amuse as a comic sleuth --
oh-so serious in his search for truth.
Make us laugh and care and cry
with characters who never say die.
Yes, Robert Altman does all this
in a movie that's too good to miss.
Okay, I realize that’s a corny poem -- but A Prairie Home Companion is awash in delicious corn itself. And, besides, I owe director Robert Altman a positive rhyme after lambasting him with “The Gosford Park Shuffle” a couple of years ago. He’s certainly redeemed himself in my book with this wonderful film. Still, even Altman admits the movie represents Garrison Keillor’s sensibilities more than his own.
Based on the Keillor’s popular long-running radio show of the same name, A Prairie Home Companion also changed my opinion of Meryl Streep (Prime) and Woody Harrelson (After the Sunset). These two actors have failed to impress me in most of their screen appearances, but their performances here are pure gold. Maybe it’s because I’m such a fan of musicals: Streep simply sparkles as she belts out her duets with an equally entertaining Lily Tomlin (Orange County), and Harrelson appears surprisingly comfortable as a singing cowboy in his numbers with John C. Reilly (Chicago). The Harrelson/Reilly “Bad Jokes” medley is hilarious!
Other standouts in the terrific cast include: Virginia Madsen (Sideways), ethereal and beautiful as a Dangerous Woman lurking in the wings; Kevin Kline (De-Lovely), who deftly parodies those old film noir detectives; Lindsay Lohan (Just My Luck), poignantly funny as Streep’s suicide-obsessed daughter; and Maya Rudolph (Saturday Night Live), delivering a perfect dead-pan turn as a pregnant, eye-rolling script girl/assistant stage manager.
At first, the screenplay by Keillor seems quite simple -- it starts out as merely a depiction of what happens during the last radio show before a greedy developer (Tommy Lee Jones) closes the theater where “A Prairie Home Companion” has been performed weekly for 30 years. But, as the movie progresses, we discover it deals with much deeper issues --matters of life and death, in fact.
“Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,” quotes Guy Noir (Kline) as he summarizes the film’s important message. To which the velvet-voiced radio host, “GK,” would probably add, “If you feel really happy, be patient: this will pass.”
Maybe so, Mr. Keillor. But I believe my happy feeling about A Prairie Home Companion will last forever.
(Released by Picturehouse and rated “PG-13” for risqué humor.)