Prairie Home Companion
Director: Robert Altman
Writer: Garrison Keillor
Ladies and gentlemen, I welcome you to the sepia shadings of Prairie Home Companion, brought to you by the makers of ensemble films, Robert Altman, and homespun tales, Garrison Keillor. This endearing, charming, and disarming film will cure what ails you: loneliness, cynicism, or aching joints.
It is based on the real variety radio show that airs on Minnesota Public Radio, but can also be heard on American Public Media. Reminiscent of a time when radio truly kept people company in rural areas when money was low, the film takes place in the theater that housed the radio show (on WLT) since the beginning. It has been bought by a large corporation that will knock it down for parking. The show that is the movie is the swan song.
Prairie Home Companion waxes nostalgic on days gone by in its old-time format, old-tyme music, and the cast with of Boomers approaching their sixties. Indeed, the singing/acting torch is passed from Meryl Streep to the capable Lindsay Lohan. Another nice touch is the comic relief threaded by the suitably restrained Kevin Kline as Guy Noir.
Altman has comeback from Gosford Park, of which despite two attempts, I could not get through more than half an hour—even with Clive Owen. (Too Upstairs, Downstairs for me.) He structures Prairie Home Companion in this signature style (many stories in a small setting) but Keillor’s down-home feel grounds the film nicely. Pay attention to the details, for everything is not as it seems.
Wartime’s “Greatest Generation” (of which Altman is a member) will get the most from this; I think they will better understand what “theatre of the mind” meant to people, be they city or country dwellers. While Prairie Home Companion is a gentle satire, it reminds us that something is endangered. That we must wake up to homogenization before everything becomes paved corporate.
In the spirit of torch passing, the Internet plays a similar role that radio did: it is a source of information, and way to keep in touch with far-flung family. Echoes a time when grown children left the farm to find work in the cities. Plus ca change.