A Prairie Home Companion (2006)

Mitchell posted on June 25, 2006

We saw A Prairie Home Companion Saturday night, and I really enjoyed it. It definitely captured the spirit of the radio program, except for two major transgressions: First, Guy Noir as a character in the movie rather than a character in the radio program really messed things up for me. Second, Keillor really could have found a way to work a ”News from Lake Woebegone” monologue into the screenplay. He could have done a lot with it, drawing paralleles between the characters in his fictitious town ”where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average,” and the situation this radio program has found itself in. We are effectively telling this radio program goodbye in this film, and without a chance to say goodbye to the residents of Lake Woebegone, I felt kinda gypped.

Something Robert Altman does really well is manage his space. In both A Prairie Home Companion and Gosford Park, we really get a sense of the geography of the setting: the backstage space of the Fitzgerald Theater in the former and a mansion’s upstairs/downstairs space in the latter. It makes me wonder how the heck this was filmed, because I don’t think there’s any way there could have been enough room in the narrow hallways and dressing rooms of this fictitious theater for cameras, lights, directors, and sound guys. Yet we are taken from room through hallway to stage, or from stage through hallway to small room to smaller room to closet. If it is all illusion, it is pretty dang convincing.

Another of Altman’s signatures, the overlapping dialogues, is wonderful in this film, especially between Lily Tomlin and Meryl Streep. You really get convinced that these two women have been performing together for their whole lives, and even their discussions in the dressing room sound as choreographed as their onstage banter and performance.

Another problem I have is with the Virginia Madsen character. Again, I thought she should be a character in a radio show, but not in this film. The dynamic between the Guy Noir and Dangerous Lady characters makes the rest of the film difficult to believe, and that was a disappointment.

But the highlight of the movie is the music itself. The house band (Keillor’s real-life house band) is very good, and the performances are delightful, especially Lefty and Dusty, played by Woody Harrelson and John C. Reilly. Lindsey Lohan was a nice surprise; she may have received too much Lolita attention these past several years, but she’s got some chops. Have you seen her in The Parent Trap? She was almost in Mara Wilson territory, if you ask me. She can act. And yeah. The camera really likes her.

I give it a solid 7 out of 10 and worth seeing just for the Streep/Tomlin dynamic. I hope they get to sing at the Oscars next
spring.

Reid posted on July 1, 2006

Prairie Home Companion (2006)
Dir. Robert Altman
5/10

I’ve never listened to the radio program. I like Robert Altman. I did not care for this film. If the film did a good job of capturing the humor, music and overall vibe of the radio program, then I probably wouldn’t care for it. The music was OK, but nothing that got me excited. Same with the humor.

The film started off by seeming to develop the backstory of the characters, but then never really took initial developments anywhere. It’s almost like Altman intially thought of making a film with conventional character development and then just deciding midway through to chuck the idea and just try to capture the essence of the radio program. (What was the whole storyline of the “angel of death” anyway?)

A word about the performances. I thought they weren’t very exceptional. Streep’s performance made me think of what makes a performance invisible and draws the viewer into the film’s world versus a performance that is obvious and consequently keeps the viewer out of it. Unfortunately, Streep’s performance was the latter for me, and I’m not quite sure why that was. There were some moments where she displayed her skill–like the scene where she’s singing a duet with GK and you know she’s sad and troubled by the experience. The acting seemed good, but I was aware of the skill, and it didn’t draw me in. I’m not really sure why. A lot of the other performances felt the same way for me. The performances felt flat for some reason, lacking the ability to really draw me into the film.

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