Thursday, June 29, 2006

 

Worlds Collide in “A Prairie Home Companion”


The culture clash between Garrison Keillor, creator of “A Prairie Home Companion,” and Robert Altman, filmmaker of standouts “Nashville,” “The Player” and “Short Cuts,” is one of good-natured hokum (Keillor) and razor-sharp cynicism (Altman).
When it comes to movies, especially those meant for adult audiences, I’d take cynicism every time.
“A Prairie Home Companion” has been airing regularly (except for a break in the 1980s) on public radio stations across America and Keillor, who wrote the screenplay in addition to starring in the film, stays true to the radio show’s Americana format. There are live bands and singers, a crime series featuring Guy Noir (Kevin Kline), anecdotes from small town life and make-believe commercials for homespun items like Powder Milk Biscuits.
Tweaks that separate the movie from the long-running radio program include Tommy Lee Jones as a Texas businessman who has come to shut down Prairie Home Companion and Virginia Madsen as a mystery woman in a white trench coat. The one tweak that’s desperately missing is Altman’s biting dialogue, complex characters and mature themes.
“Prairie Home Companion” is good-natured, aw shucks cinema patched together like a filmed stage play or concert. It’s the last thing one would expect from Altman because, well, it’s a waste of his wonderful, mean spirit.
Granted, the film has its share of beautiful images. There’s no denying Altman’s skill. Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin add sass as the country singing due Yolanda and Rhonda Johnson.
But the film never rises above affable – much like Keillor with his dark blue suit, white dress short and banker’s tie. It’s easygoing, chatter and homespun advice and Altman has better things to offer than that.

“A Prairie Home Companion” premiered at the 2006 Berlin Film Festival. Picturehouse released the film in theaters across America earlier this summer.

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