A Prairie Home Companion (2006)
Starring: Woody Harrelson, Tommy Lee Jones, Garrison Keillor, Kevin Kline, Lindsay Lohan, Virginia Madsen, John C. Reilly, Maya Rudolph, Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin
Directed by: Robert Altman
I went to see this movie for one simple reason: our apartment was too hot, so we wanted to sit in some air conditioning for a couple hours. I suppose the good reviews helped, as we could’ve chosen something else, but since it seems like the cinema is packed with crap right now, it was either this or Cars. I figure that the best we could hope for from Cars is for it to be okay, whereas I thought A Prairie Home Companion had the potential to be excellent.
Well… I give the air conditioning 4.5 stars. That will be the end of the positives in this review. To be fair, prior to this movie, I had never heard of the Prairie Home Companion live radio show that broadcasts throughout the United States on public radio, or its host (and writer and star of this movie) Garrison Keillor. We don’t get that stuff up here in Canada (not that I would’ve known it anyway, as I’ve never listened to any kind of Canadian equivalent). So there was little chance for this movie to invoke a sense of longing or nostalgia in me, no matter how desperately it tries.
So if this movie was a love letter to the fans of Keillor, or shows like his, not meant for outsiders, then I guess it’s my fault for barging in. Of course, if that’s the case, they should’ve had a disclaimer or something (and probably not have brought it to Canada). My suspicion is that while the movie tailors to those people, it is designed to appeal to a wider audience than those who tune in their radios on Saturday afternoons. It has a certain folksy charm, along with Robert Altman‘s trademark overlapping dialogue, but neither amounted to very much.
The movie is a fictionalised version of Keillor’s radio show, centred around the last performance in the show’s storied history because of a conglomerate in Texas having bought out the radio station (which has obviously not happened in real life). The action (or “action”) all takes place in the Fitzgerald Theatre, mostly on stage, with short bits backstage, and has all the flash-bang excitement of radio! When the stars aren’t gabbing backstage about little of consequence, they’re on stage singing their folksy country songs and plugging local products in live commercials. If that sounds fascinating to you, then you’re in for a treat. If it sounds about as exciting as watching a bunch of actors pretend to be singers on a radio show for 105 minutes, then you’ll be about as bored as I was.
Which was terribly bored. The songs were kind of quaint at first, but then I lost interest. Even less interesting were the backstage bits, where characters live their lives, telling stories that go nowhere and mean less. It doesn’t help matters that while the actors all act fairly well, they’re not exactly singers. Lily Tomlin is the worst for this, as it is painfully obvious that she doesn’t sing. She can carry a tune decently, but in no way resembles the professional singer her character is supposed to be. Worse, is Kevin Kline‘s Guy Noir character, a Keillor comedy bit on the radio show about a stereotypically noir detective, but in the movie exists and interacts with the normal characters throughout the movie. It’s a ridiculous combination of a joke character and these normal folks that feels stupid. Even worse is when Virginia Madsen‘s character shows up and the story takes a turn toward the existential. At that point, the movie completely lost me for good (save for a genuinely funny bit with Woody Harrelson and John C. Reilly as singing cowboys exchanging bad jokes in song).
As it turns out, I should’ve turned to a computer-generated world where cars reproduce in a human-less world to see a world that more closely resembles the one I inhabit and recognise. Ah well, at least the A/C was nice.