Posted on 6/22/06 10:21 AM
One of the best films of the year is A Prairie Home Companion. Its vivid and imaginative style appeals to people other than those who listen to the radio show on NPR. The story is simple, yet wonderful as it begins in St. Paul, Minnesota, where Guy Noir, played by Kevin Kline, explains the situation facing the Fitzgerald Theater where the radio show is recorded. The theater is going to be bought by a company from Texas, which is represented by Tommy Lee Jones as the Axeman, and will be torn down for a parking lot. This leads to the last night the radio will be aired, so the regulars of the show and the staff are preparing for their farewell. The story progresses through the evening as the show takes place, and the stories of the people on the show are revealed. The singing sisters, Ronda and Yolanda Johnson, played brilliantly by Lily Tomlin and Meryl Streep, share their longing for ?Mama? and tell their story to Yolanda?s daughter Lola, played very well by Lindsay Lohan, how they came to be on A Prairie Home Companion. Lola is a typical teenager, but one who has a penchant for writing songs about suicide. Dusty and Lefty, played by Woody Harrelson and John C. Reilly, are a singing cowboy duet whose songs are mostly humorous. And of course, Garrison Keillor plays himself as the host of A Prairie Home Companion. Through the course of the evening, Guy Noir is trying to figure out who the mysterious Dangerous Woman is, played by Virginia Madsen, and why she has become present at the radio show. Nothing more can be said without giving away the plot, but what can be said is that Garrison Keillor has written a brilliant screenplay, and Robert Altman has created a masterpiece. The poignant script is very different from a conventional screenplay, but manages to enchant the viewer.
One of the most interesting aspects of the film is the main theme of it, which is death. Death is present throughout the film as the radio show dies, is present with the death of a show regular during the performance, and is echoed in Lola?s obsession with suicide. Keillor expanded the idea of death, drawing some influence from F. Scott Fitzgerald, after whom the theater was named, but approached it in a way that offers hope for an afterlife, and a poignant view of death for the living. Although the story is simple, it is rich in symbolism and contemplates deeply the subject of death, making it somewhat of a black comedy. One of the films fortes is the usage of humor, executed very well by all the actors in the film, and certainly by Keillor?s keen intellect. Robert Altman adds his magic to the film with his sweeping camera movements, which guide the viewer as if floating through the film. The music pulls the film together and creates a perfect harmony with the message of the film. Some of the songs are merely for humor, while others add to the profundity of the death theme. Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin make an excellent pair as they sing their duets throughout the film. Lindsay Lohan even gets to showcase her vocal ability in ?Frankie and Johnny.? With these aspects of a wonderful script, incredible acting, charming music, and beautiful cinematography, A Prairie Home Companion is film not to be missed. While it may seem odd in parts, its brilliance outshines any flaws on behalf of Keillor, Altman, or the actors.