A Prairie Home Companion

If you watched the Academy Awards this year, you may recall that Robert Altman was awarded an honorary Oscar for lifetime achievement. The best thing about all that I saw of the ceremonies was the presentation of the award: Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin came out onto the stage and wigged out and talked all over each other to create the illusion of an Altman film on the stage.

I’d be lying if I said I knew a hell of a lot about Altman, but A Prairie Home Companion is so sublime that I want to know more about him. Even if that means watching Robin Williams in Popeye.

“A Prairie Home Companion” is a live radio variety show produced on a weekly basis, but not for much longer: the Axeman (Tommy Lee Jones) is coming to town to close it after its last show. Guy Noir (Kevin Kline), a security guard with delusions of detective grandeur, introduces this concept to the audience, along with that of the “Dangerous Woman” (Virginia Madsen), who may be there to save the show or to destroy it.
In this loose framework, A Prairie Home Companion plays its finally show, led by GK (Garrison Keillor) and supported by an insanely talented cast.

Do you want to know how good this movie is? Lindsay Lohan is great in it. Altman has directed her to such a level that you can forget about all of the stupid publicity and revel in her role here. Meryl Streep shines with a genuine love for the show and a conflict of feelings for GK; Lily Tomlin as Streep’s sister is wonderfully sarcastic; and John C. Reilly and Woody Harrelson as cowboys Lefty and Dusty are a truly excellent comedy team.

Yes, it’s all cornball, but cornball makes it feel like it is a true home companion. As the Dangerous Woman says, “listening to the show made me feel like I was with old friends”. In the scant two hours that we have with this large cast in their theatre, we do come to care for them. The actors spring such vitality to their performances that it transmits to the audience and one can genuinely feel that they never want the Prairie Home Companion to ever end.

I felt that I could watch these people forever, going about their business: forging relationships, making bad jokes and talking about skirts so sheer that you can read the fine print of the underpants of the women who wear them. Altman is frenetic in introducing them and cuts between them at seemingly illogical intervals, but he effectively creates enough of a backbone for all of them to be a genuine part of the organisation.

You’ll believe that Meryl Streep can sing. Damn right she can. The film is a can of lies – A Prairie Home Companion is apparently still going strong, and Garrison Keillor himself still hosts it – but they are lies that are incredibly easy to swallow, even if one of them is just strange.

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