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A Prairie Home Companion
Stars: Garrison Keillor, Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin, Lindsay Lohan, Woody Harrelson, John C. Reilly, Kevin Kline, Virginia Madsen, L. Q. Jones, Maya Rudolph, Rim Russell, Jearlyn Steele, Sue Scott, Tommy Lee Jones, and Marylouise Burke
Director: Robert Altman
Scriptwriter: Garrison Keillor
Running Time: 104 minutes
Rating: PG 13
If you don’t listen to NPR you probably won’t know what I’m writing about. Garrison Keillor’s famed live radio show, heard on NPR, A Prairie Home Companion, has come to the screen with Keillor’s words and Robert Altman’s direction. For live radio fans, this is near-perfection. This radio show has run for over 25 years, and is centered in St. Paul, Minnesota, you betcha. There is a bit of country western combined with gospel combined with gentle pokes at living in the Northland and all held together with commercials for products not really on grocery shelves. Director Robert Altman, who is a master at managing several film stars at the same time, does it again. Life backstage flows from dressing rooms to hallways to the live set and back again without missing a beat.
Garrison Keillor’s story has the “Companion’s” theater being sold and this particular night is their last performance in the building. Anything goes. The audience meets the regulars.
There are the singing sisters, Yolanda and Rhonda (Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin) with Yolanda’s rebellious teenage daughter, Lola (Lindsay Lohan). Then come the singing cowboys, Dusty (Woody Harrelson) and Lefty (John C. Reilly), who are about as thick as a telephone directory. (Guy) Kevin Kline is a private detective working as the backstage doorman and is an accident waiting to happen, while Maya Rudolph is the pregnant director’s assistant trying to keep everyone calm and quiet before they perform and also reminds the guys to check “the barn door” before going before the audience. Garrison Keillor (himself) is the M.C. and lead singer.
As the evening progresses, the program gets raunchy when the singing cowboys try to get blue lyrics past the censor,Yolanda and Rhonda try to break up the sound-effects man and Guy keeps chasing a mysterious blonde in a white trench coat (Madsen) who looks like someone from a 1950’s detective novel. When one of the singers (L.Q. Jones) is found dead, that blonde looks suspicious.
There is an easy camaraderie between the stars and you can believe that Meryl, Lily and Lola are related. Just like you can believe that Dusty and Lefty are clueless and Guy can’t walk down stairs without falling. The band works magic with all performers and anyone who has ever been behind the scenes at a live performance or live radio will know that when things go wrong, the improvs start. Meryl Streep stands out as someone with a crush on one of the cast, and Woody Harrelson as the guy who could wash his mouth out with soap every night. One scene stands out and that is like a quartet in an opera when the sound effects man, Keillor, Streep and Tomlin improvise a story that keeps everyone on his or her toes. You know what the words “split second timing” will mean.
A Prairie Home Companion still continues on radio and after this movie, will be on until the 22nd century. This is the best film of 2006 so far. Enjoy. Oscar, are you listening for director, music, script, film and Streep?
Copyright 2006 Marie Asner