A Prairie Home Companion
directed by Robert Altman
starring Garrison Keillor, Meryl Streep, Lilly Tomlin
I am SO glad this movie didn’t suck. I love the Garrison Keillor/PHC product, a gentle mix of old time music and corny comedy tempered by self-effacing Midwestern farm philosophy. For cinematic purposes, the show has been on for years, stuck in some sort of radio time warp. Tonight reality catches up with the last broadcast of the Prairie Home Companion as the Large Evil Corporation buys the station, planning to turn it into a parking lot. It’s radio unemployment time for these audio-oriented actors, and death stalks the show in the form of The Dangerous Woman (Virginia Madsen). She’s invisible to everyone except her victims and Security Guard Guy Noir (Kevin Kline), who tries his best to pick her up. As silly ads and maudlin songs play, the show winds down, effecting everyone except Mr. Keillor himself. His philosophy – “Every broadcast is your last.”
Although his movie has a few stars in it, I found the use of the real radio musicians, singers and sound effects man Tom Keith as supporting cast the most charming aspect of the film. The stars are reasonably effective – Merry Streep is pleasant and outgoing as Yolanda Johnson, although her sister Rhonda (Lilly Tomlin) can’t decide whether or not she should have a Minnesota accent. The best role goes to Kevin Kline as the natty Guy Noir, he is seconded by the evil Tommy Lee as the corporate henchman. And Mr. K? Well, he did an excellent job as himself, just as I had hoped. But precious little Lindsey Lohan has an empty role that seems stapled onto the script. After spending most of the show writing angst-filled open mic night poetry, she gets her big break singing “Frankie and Johnny” (the Goth remix), saving the show by filling 6 minutes of dead air. A star is bored…
There’s plenty of heavy-handed symbolism, with an overarching theme of death and separation. Mirrors are everywhere, showing the incomplete reflections we leave of ourselves as we pass through life. If nothing else, this film is more thematically coherent on a deeper level than the radio shows, which are typically loosely draped on a holiday or host city theme. There’s a certain level of absurdity in the whole concept of a radio show with a lighting guy and a makeup lady, but it’s overall a very enjoyable and sweetly nostalgic movie. It almost feels like Garrison Keillor’s swan song, since he’s been at this radio show since the early 70’s, and maybe, just maybe, he’s more tired of this role than we will ever be.