Reviewed by: Jonathan Rodriguez
|Featuring:||Woody Harrelson, Tommy Lee Jones, Garrison Keillor, Kevin Kline, Lindsay Lohan|
|Producer:||William Pohlad, John Penotti, Fisher Stevens|
“Radio like you’ve never seen it before.”
In order to prepare to go see Robert Altman’s latest film, “A Prairie Home Companion,” I thought I would revisit one of his best films, “Gosford Park”. The reason I love “Gosford Park” so much is that the film takes a plethora of characters, gives them an interesting setting, but somehow keeps us at a distance. The film never involves us; we feel more like a fly on the wall at a big dinner party of self-absorbed rich people. But that is exactly what the film needed. We didn’t need to be involved to enjoy the film. Had we been given characters we could relate to, or empathize with, the film would have taken on an entirely different tone, and no doubt wouldn’t have worked as well. It was no doubt difficult for Altman to create an ensemble world where we weren’t supposed to connect with the characters or even like them for that matter, but I suppose that’s why he is considered one of our very best directors. I say all this to say that “A Prairie Home Companion” is even better than “Gosford Park”, but for the entirely opposite reason.
The minute the film starts, and as we are slowly introduced to all the colorful characters, we warm up to them; we like them instantaneously, without having much reason to. Maybe it’s the setting, or maybe it’s the actors playing them, but whatever the reason, Altman has worked his ensemble magic again.
“A Prairie Home Companion” doesn’t have much in terms of plot, which is also something we come to expect from Altman. There is, of course, a loose plot; one assembled primarily to give the numerous characters some reason to be together, but then lets them go from there.
The film opens on what appears to be the final night of “A Prairie Home Companion”, a long running radio variety show that also plays to a packed house nightly in their St. Paul theater. Before seeing the film, I was entirely unaware of the fact that this is an actual radio show, created by Garrison Keillor (who perfectly plays the show’s host GK and wrote the script), with fictional elements thrown into the movie to make it interesting. The radio show features a colorful cast of regulars including the Johnson sisters Yolanda and Rhonda (Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin), singing trail hands Dusty and Lefty (Woody Harrelson and John C. Reilly), crooner L.Q. Jones (Chuck Akers), and others. We also get the backstage pass, where we meet the folks behind the scenes and get to watch the performers gear up for the final show.
The film is narrated by Guy Noir (Kevin Kline), a bumbling, out of work private eye making bills meet as the show’s stage security guy. He becomes entranced by a mysterious woman (Virginia Madsen) wandering around backstage, and seems intent on wooing her despite the fact that he doesn’t know who she is, or why she is even back with the performers, and doesn’t seem to realize that it is his job to keep her from wandering around. Tommy Lee Jones plays the Axeman, the Texas businessman who bought the theater and plans on turning it into a parking lot. All of this is a setup that allows the actors to sort of roam free, without the constraints of a heavy plot, and gives us the chance to sit back and enjoy the show.
The film is rated PG-13, for what the MPAA calls “Risqué Humor,” and that is really the only way to describe it. There are numerous sexually-related jokes peppered throughout the film, as well as crude jokes near the end in Dusty and Lefty’s final song, appropriately titled “Bad Jokes.” There isn’t a whole lot in terms of language, although there is a few uses of God’s name in vain. There is little actual sexual content, although one of the characters is seen in his room, getting ready for a tryst with the show’s Lunch Lady. The major problem that I, and most people who will see the film, had is the inappropriate humor. The jokes will offend people, and should warrant some caution for those planning on seeing the film. Fortunately, most children and teenagers will have little interest in the film.
When all is said and done, I loved “A Prairie Home Companion.” It’s funny, at times hilarious, sweet without being condescending to it’s simple characters, and completely original. I am not the type who looks forward to the big budget releases, in fact I have still not seen “MI.3,” “The Da Vinci Code,” or any of the others. I look forward to originality and creativity, and that’s exactly what “A Prairie Home Companion” delivers.
Violence: Minor / Profanity: Moderate / Sex/Nudity: Moderate