A Prairie Home Companion
R E V I E W   B Y   R I C H   C L I N E dir Robert Altman
scr Garrison Keillor
with Garrison Keillor, Kevin Kline, Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin, Lindsay Lohan, Woody Harrelson, John C Reilly, Virginia Madsen, Tommy Lee Jones, Maya Rudolph, LQ Jones, Tim Russell
release US 9.Jun.06, UK 5.Jan.07
06/US 1h46

In the sweet by and by: Keillor, Streep and Lohan

kline tomlin harrelson

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A Prairie Home Companion This ode to a bygone style of entertainment is a fitting swan song for Altman--expertly directed and acted, with sharp observational humour and a movingly introspective undertone.

In the Fitzgerald Theater in St Paul, it's the final night for Garrison Keillor's eponymous live radio variety programme. Sisters Yolanda and Rhonda Johnson (Streep and Tomlin) sing home-spun folksongs; Dusty and Rusty (Harrelson and Reilly) perform their ribald country and western act; and Yolanda's daughter Lola (Lohan) might make her debut. Meanwhile backstage, the house detective (Kline) is following a mysterious woman in white (Madsen), who seems to be on some sort of mission. And the theatre's new owner (Jones) seems completely unmoved by what he's about to shut down.

The film's a tellingly anachronistic mix of modern day and period characters. Kline's Guy Noir seems dropped out of a 1940s mystery, complete with simile-laden narration and a fierce pinstripe suit. While Madsen's stranger drifts through the background like an angelic apparition. Everyone else is firmly present-day, even if they're lost in their own little worlds. Only Lohan seems to be living fully in the 21st century, so it's no wonder she's depressed.

The performances are superb across the board, especially Streep and Tomlin, who have a wonderful banter as they exchange stories in their dressing room, then carry their petty concerns onto the stage with them (Streep's woman scorned is hysterical). Lohan gives a strong performance of her own, while Harrelson and Reilly have the comical scene-stealing roles. And Keillor holds it together cleverly, with effortless skill and an offhanded charm.

The transitions between from the stage to behind-the-scenes are fluid and beautifully handled. And as the warm humour and unsentimental emotion build, there's also a pointed but understated comment about today's voracious corporate culture, which values profits ahead of art or people. It's a thoroughly enjoyable film, from the ridiculous ad spots to music that alternates between sweetly heartwarming and amusingly rude. And even the touch of magical realism, complete with a witty coda, add to the overall tapestry. It can't help but make you smile. And think.

cert PG themes, some innuendo 8.Dec.06

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2006 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall