A Prairie Home Companion – DVD Review

Available at Amazon.com

Robert Altman

Woody Harrelson….Dusty
Tommy Lee Jones….Axeman
Garrison Keillor….G.K.
Kevin Kline….Guy Noir
Lindsay Lohan….Lola Johnson
Virginia Madsen….Dangerous Woman
John C. Reilly….Lefty
Maya Rudolph….Molly
Meryl Streep….Yolanda Johnson
Lily Tomlin….Rhonda Johnson
L.Q. Jones….Chuck Akers

Picturehouse & New Line Home Video present A Prairie Home Companion. Screenplay by Garrison Keillor. Running time: 106 minutes. Rated PG-13. Theatrical release June 9, 2006. DVD released Oct. 10, 2006.

Rarely will you find my radio dialed into A Prairie Home Companion on a Saturday night. I know of the show and occasionally listened to the musical variety show back in the 80s when Keillor’s book about Lake Wobegon was a bestseller. So watching this film, I’m an outsider to the mythology of the show. (This would be not my slam-dunk category on Jeopardy.) The question of this review: Can you enjoy this movie without being a fan of the show? Is it too-insider of an experience to be entertaining to someone who doesn’t eat Powdermilk Biscuits?

The film is about the last broadcast of A Prairie Home Companion. A big corporation out of Texas has bought the theater and will be plowing it down to build a parking lot on its foundation. While many in showbiz would turn such a moment into a tearjerking goodbye production, Keillor just wants it to be a normal show. He doesn’t want the audience to think that something is ending. And his attitude is tested when a performer drops dead during the show. What will he tell the audience?

The easy thing is to compare this film to Altman’s Nashville since both feature country music. But these are completely different films. Nashville is about the politics of fame. Companion features performers that have reached the peak of their fame by being on the NPR show. They’re in the twilight of their dreams if they can’t touch the heart of the corporate axeman during the show to spare the theater. The best Altman film to compare this to is Brewster McCloud since the cast includes artsy characters that are hard to stomach. The theater detective Guy Noir and the Dangerous Woman who roams backstage talking about her former life aren’t on the same wavelength as the rest of the characters. They create an atmosphere of artifice in what seems like a documentary about the performers. Turns out Guy Noir is a character performed by Keillor on the show. The devoted would have missed him. Luckily there is more going on than Guy and Woman.

The beauty of the film arrives in the musical performances from two duos. Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin play the remaining sisters of a musical family. Who knew these two could harmonize so well? They come off as if they’d spent a life traveling cross country in station wagons playing county fairs. These two ought to put together a cabaret act. The pure chemistry award of the film goes to Woody Harrelson and John C. Reilly as the singing cowboys. They are hilarious. They even pull off a fart joke during a tender moment. Reilly shows that he was stifled in Talladega Nights. It’s Woody’s best role since Kingpin. Their performance of “Bad Jokes” had me gasping for air. Hopefully, they’ll perform the song during award season.

Keillor does a good job playing a jerkish version of himself. Shockingly enough tabloid disaster queen Lindsey Lohan gives a real performance instead of looking like she’s ready to hit last call. Perhaps Streep and Tomlin kept her focused better than a VW Bug? Here’s hoping that L.Q. Jones gets a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his haggard singer. He’s always been great as rascal characters in Sam Peckinpah’s movies and now he shines on stage. Like so many of Altman’s movies, the cast controls the experience more than the plot.

The one element that doesn’t make this a complete Companion experience is that the words “Lake Wobegon” never get mentioned. Perhaps they’ve sold the rights to that real estate to another feature film project. It stinks that we don’t get that one little story from Keillor’s mythical small town.

A Prairie Home Companion is a nice semi-wholesome film that can easily appeal to folks who barely listen to the show as well as the hardcore devoted. There are enough stellar musical moments to override the inside jokes.

The DVD:

The Video:

The film is anamorphic 2.35:1. The movie was shot on HD so it’s a crisp and clean transfer.

The Audio:

The soundtrack is in English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround and Dolby Digital Stereo Surround. The subtitles are in English and Spanish. The commentary track features Altman and Kline talking about the production. Kline has plenty of questions for his director about his working process. We learn that Maya Rudolph was really pregnant. The father of that baby is Paul Thomas Anderson.

Special Features:

Come Play With Us: A Feature Companion (49:13) is a comprehensive documentary about how the project evolved. We get a history of the radio show and development of the film. Interesting factoid is the insurance company had Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights) on the set ready to take over the director’s position if Altman fell ill. You can see Anderson lurking all over the behind the scenes footage.

Onstage at the Fitzgerald: A Musical Companion divides up uncut footage from the movie. Musical Segments (24:51) gives us ten songs from the house band. “Advertisement” Segments (5:33) has six sponsor announcements from Keillor. He does a great job faking jingles for New Munich Beer and Prince of Pizza. He almost had me craving for rhubarb from Minnesota.

The DVD Lounge’s Ratings for A Prairie Home Companion
(OUT OF 10)