Posted on 4/05/10 08:00 PM
A Prairie Home Companion is my first exposure to Robert Altman and I must say I want more. The movie's production seems like something out of a movie itself. One of the most prolific directors ends his career with a movie about an artistic institution going out for its final show as an actual angel of death looms in the shadows, comforting and calming, just like the film. It's almost like "Companion" is Altman's own Virginia Madsen (death angel, remember, I talked about before in the review): a bittersweet creation of both tenderness and fear, of humor and darkness. Eventually, everything ends, and Altman's end couldnt have been theamatically or atmospherically more appropriate.
A Prairie Home Companion begins with an out-of-work private eye named Guy Noir, who seems to desperately long to be Humpherey Bogart, explaining the plight of the long-running Minnesota-based, music variety show that the film is named for. A media company based in Texas has purchased the Fizgerald Theater (where the show is filmed) and the radio station that owns and rumors arise among the perfomers that the show will be canceled and that this Saturaday could be their last on the "Prairie". Over the show's live, two-hour broadcast, all the "Companions" reminisce backstage about their roads to the show and the roads that will inevitably lead away from it.
While the movie doesn't offer anything truly great, the film fully captures a moment that's hard to forget. Meloncholy has never covered a surface-comedy quite like "Companion". The movie's sly comedy is mostly character driven and very seldom elicits more than a chuckle, but the contrast between the sad and the sweet works like dark comedy, just without the edginess. This isn't entirely a good thing, the film could have used some more edge, possibly it could have delved into a more cathartic realm of emotions that were certainly present in the characters but seemingly excluded to keep it a family film, but more often than not, it works. Certain aspects of the movie seem rushed and certain subplots are seemingly ignored for running time's sake, but overall I can't say that the film's character development, which is the central joy of this film, will disappoint. So many deep characters are explored, but too many are left underdeveloped.
As good as the humor and character development can be in this movie, the real stars are the big stars in front of and behind the camera. As I said earlier, Altman's direction is a atmospheric wonder. It's almost like there is never a still shot. The camera fluidly travels through the scene, never stopping its exploration of the scene and the characters involved in it. A huge ensemble cast of pure greatness, very close to all have at least been nominated for an Oscar if not having won one. Kevin Kline's overly cliche p.i. is amusing in every aspect from his speech to his walk. Meryll Streep and Lily Tomlin also put in good performances as sisters who have spent their lives singing together and are wondering what their lives have been as their life for the last 30 years comes to an end. Woody Harrelson and John C. Reily are amusing even if their characters are a bit wasted. Garrison Keillor, who wrote the screenplay and created the actual A Prairie Home Companion radio show, delivers an amusing, yet quitely touching performance as a man whose creation is coming to an end. His character is the strongest in the film (no way that has anything to do with the fact Keillor wrote the screenplay) and makes for the best moment of character study in the film.
The greatness of this film comes from all the different levels that it works on: its a touching, charming family film, its an endearing, bittersweet character study, and at times, even a fun, wry comedy. The film doesn't deliver easy entertainment, but its there for the people who want it Despite the inordinate amount of stars crammed into this movie, the true star is director Robert Altman because A Prairie Home Companion's story is his own: the end, in all of its glory.