A Prairie Home Companion was Robert Altman’s last film before he would sadly leave us on the very same year of its release. It was inspired by the home variety radio show of the same title, with the story focusing on various performers and the people running the show as the’ve gathered for one last episode. The all-star cast includes Meryl Streep, John C. Reilly, Woody Harrelson, Lindsay Lohan, Kevin Kline, Lily Tomlin and Virginia Madsen.
Altman is known as the master of the ensemble film, and A Prairie Home Companion best showcases his abilities in telling that kind of story. A lot of films of its ilk make the mistake of simply cutting away just to move on to the same scene. Not Altman. Altman and screenwriter (and also, one of the stars of this movie) Garrison Keillor let each moment breathe, even if it’s just for one little gasp. Scenes have a beginning, middle and end, no matter how brief, always having a delightful and surprising pay-off. At the same time, and perhaps for this very reason, the movie never feels overwhelming and we never lose track of who’s who and what everyone’s doing. He uses the widescreen frame to great advantage, with gracious camera movements that enhance the actions.
The all-star cast does not disappoint. Every single performance is fine-tuned and wonderful to watch. It’s actually sad to see Lindsay Lohan in this movie, she does a great job and even sadder than in ten years, her career hasn’t quite found another opportunity like the one she had here. Everyone else delivers the golden performances you’d expect from them and a whole lot more.
Another great aspect of this movie is the music. I wouldn’t call myself a huge fan of the music portrayed here, but compared to Nashville, another Altman movie where I struggled to enjoy the musical performances, here it was the complete opposite. I had a blast watching these characters perform, maybe because they were so endearing.
And that’s the key to this whole movie, it’s just so endearing. It brushes with darkness quite often, but it’s an optimistic, sweet film about accepting the bad in your life and the fact that some day we are going to die. Altman himself knew that his age and health weren’t on his side when he made this film; he had to get Paul Thomas Anderson as a back-up director for insurance purposes, and in a lot of ways this movie feels like him accepting what was to come. But the movie doesn’t wallow in sadness or in regret, instead, it seems to apply the little mantra that he taught to Anderson on set: Giggle and give in.
You can get A Prairie Home Companion right here.