A Prairie Home Companion

 
Directed by: Robert Altman
Written by:Garrison Keillor
Starring: Woody Harrelson, Tommy Lee Jones, Garrison Keillor, Kevin Kline, Lindsay Lohan, Virginia Madsen, John C. Reilly, Maya Rudolph, Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin
Released: October 5, 2006
Grade: A-

Those that are sentimental will feel right at home with Robert Altman’s latest film, A Prairie Home Companion.  For decades, a live variety radio show known as A Prairie Home Companion has been broadcast on the WLT network in Texas.  It features a mix of country music and out-of-date humour.  In the words of narrator Guy Noir (Kline), “it was the kind of show that died 50 years ago but somebody forgot to tell them.”

Tonight though will be their last show.  The radio station has been bought out and their final broadcast is a time of both celebration and sadness for the tight-nit cast and crew.  They’ve poured their souls into the lovable program and this will be the final time they ever perform together.

Shot like a documentary, the film is typical Robert Altman.  Like some of his classic works, including Short Cuts and The Player, the camera follows its characters like a ghost.  It slowly moves about the set and focuses its attention on whoever is in the vicinity.  It’s reminiscent of a Paul Thomas Anderson movie (my favourite director).  Funnily enough, Anderson was on call as the back up director for insurance purpose in case the 80-year-old Altman was not able to complete the film but he was not needed.

Given his reputation, Altman had no trouble assembling the cast of his choice.  Meryl Streep, Lilly Tomlin, Woody Harrelson and John C. Reilly are all traditional country singers.  Garrison Keillor (who also wrote the film) is the show’s MC.  Virginia Madsen is a mysterious lady who drifts in and out of the story.  Tommy Lee Jones acts on behalf of the new owners and has come to see the final show.  My two favourite characters were Maya Rudolph as the disinterested looking stage director and Kevin Kline as the witty narrator who has a zinger in every line.

A Prairie Home Companion was selected to open this year’s Brisbane International Film Festival.  It was a worthy choice and now that it has been released around the country, lovers of Robert Altman won’t want to pass it up.  It’s guaranteed to be one of his last.