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June 16, 2006

A Prairie Home Companion


Robert Altman - 2006
35mm film

Last night my significant other decided she needed to get away from Miami Beach for a few hours. We had discussed what was playing locally, only to determine that the couple art and independent films currently at the neighborhood multiplex were too downbeat, while the mainstream entries held no interest. My SO always wanted us to visit a favorite movie theater in Fort Lauderdale, and A Prairie Home Companion was playing there, and have dinner at a favorite Italian restaurant. As it turned out, the dinner was a bit more satisfying than the film.

One thing my SO pointed out about the audience was that it clearly skewed older. I'm not sure how many younger people have seen the film due to Lindsay Lohan (seen above with Meryl Streep) in the cast. I do suspect that the greater part of the audience is made up of people who have actually listened to the radio show, or have grown up watching Robert Altman's films. A Prairie Home Companion resembles a compact version of Nashville with most of the action taking place on and off the stage of the Fitzgerald Theater. With a running time one hour less than his sprawling epic, Altman's newest film often feels longer, slower, and less enthralling.

Maybe Garrison Keillor is better heard but not seen. Certainly some of the humor was laugh out loud funny, such as clueless detective Guy Noir mentioning that he had a grilled cheese sandwich with a bean chaser, or the cheerfully tasteless jokes exchanged by Dusty and Lefty. As much as I like Virginia Madsen, I kept wondering if her "Angel of Death" character was inspired by Tony Kushner, "Angels in Minnesota" as it were.

What worked best could be seen in the dressing room of the Johnson Sisters, played by Streep and Lily Tomlin. The surviving pair of a quartet similar to the Carter Family, but as one of the sisters puts it, "less famous", their dressing room is decorated with dozens of photographs of family members. One of the subplots involves Streep hoping to extend the family tradition through her daughter, played by Lohan. A Prairie Home Companion as a radio show and film runs counter to contemporary culture with its themes about tradition and family. Much of the music is country "gospel songs" and it is a given that everyone is familiar with "Amazing Grace". While the characters may be Christian as evinced by their song choices, there is a generosity of spirit that also allows for self-exploration, doubts and room for humor in various manifestations. At a time when being an "American" seems to be so rigidly defined, A Prairie Home Companion is a small reminder that one can siltaneously be a person of faith and an unrepentant goofball.

Posted by peter at June 16, 2006 12:06 PM