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A Prairie Home Companion

Genre: Comedy
Rated: PG-13
Directed by
: Robert Altman
Starring: Woody Harrelson, Tommy Lee Jones, Garrison Keillor, Kevin Kline, Lindsay Lohan, Virginia Madsen, John C. Reilly, Maya Rudolph, Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin
Released by: Picturehouse

In Short: This star-studded comedy by Robert Altman takes a backstage peek at a long-running radio variety show.

Nashville in St. Paul
All-Star Cast Highlights Altman’s Latest Film
By Andrew Bender

Legendary director Robert Altman and an A-plus-list ensemble cast make this film well worth it, even if the story never leaves the theater.

If you’ve spun the radio dial on any given Saturday evening since 1974, chances are you’ve come across a Public Radio show from St. Paul, Minn., called “A Prairie Home Companion.” Hosted by the laconic Garrison Keillor, it features down-home music, cornball jokes with perfectly timed sound effects and a whole lot of heart.

Now director Robert Altman has made a movie called “A Prairie Home Companion,” about a radio show called—wait for it—“A Prairie Home Companion,” hosted by the laconic Garrison Keillor and featuring down-home music, cornball jokes, etc. The film borrows many performers and skits from the radio show, although it’s neither a documentary nor a re-enactment.

Nor does it tell a gripping story—Altman’s pictures seldom do (“Gosford Park” and “The Player” are exceptions). The premise of this film—the show’s last broadcast—sets up less a story than a scarecrow on which plot points perch before darting off to places unknown. But that hardly matters thanks to Altman’s other signature: acting at its best. Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin are unforgettable as remaining sisters of a gospel-singing family, and Woody Harrelson and John C. Reilly are a hoot as Dusty and Lefty, cowboy crooners who spin yarns with a spider’s dexterity. Kevin Kline, Tommy Lee Jones, Virginia Madsen and Lindsay Lohan are just some of the other famous names in the ensemble cast.

Altman is also a master of mood, and he’s nailed the radio show’s understated humor, folksiness and melancholy. The baked, burnished browns of the production design give the film an old-time, handmade aesthetic.

“A Prairie Home Companion,” both in film and radio form, conveys a sense of longing, not for the way things were but the way things are, a holdout as the radio business careens toward trash-talking personalities and computer generated music. We can’t help wondering whether the 81-year-old-and-seen-it-all Altman is also cautioning us about the future of the movie industry.


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