A Prairie Home Companion
Dir. Robert Altman. 2006. PG-13. 105mins. Garrison Keillor, Meryl Streep, Woody Harrelson, Kevin Kline, Virginia Madsen, Lindsay Lohan, Lily Tomlin, John C. Reilly, Maya Rudolph, L.Q. Jones.
We’re reasonably fond of Garrison Keillor’s long-running public radio variety show A Prairie Home Companion, and the idea of eternal maverick Altman bringing him and it to the screen seemed potentially interesting. Sadly, the collaboration has yielded an odd, emotionally remote film that’s way less fun than listening to the original.
Keillor plays himself, but the rest of the show’s regulars have been supplanted by an ensemble of movie stars, among whom Streep comes closest to having a credible singing voice. Altman busily cuts back and forth between stage and backstage and does his usual thing with overlapping dialogue, but it feels more like a tic than a technique here.
Jones plays a Texas businessman who’s bought the station and intends to shut down Keillor’s show after one last broadcast. The actors playing performers are distraught at this news, but Keillor manifests dry-eyed indifference. Kline, who’s been given the name but not the wit of Keillor’s private eye character, Guy Noir, obsessively tails a blond in a white trench coat (Madsen) who turns out to be the angel of death. Harrelson and Reilly have fun playing a cornball musical comedy duo, which is different than saying they’re funny.
A new Altman film is always a crapshoot, of course. This one has more in common with Beyond Therapy than Gosford Park.—Cliff Doerksen