When Garrison Keillor and Robert Altman get together, you can anticipate enjoying the final product. With Keillor's script and Altman's directing, A Prairie Home Companion makes good on that anticipation.
I've never really listened to Keillor's radio show, though being from Minnesota I'm familiar with his subject material. I've never seen too many of Altman's films, though coming from a family where people tend to talk over each other, I'm familiar with his style. And though I've had only limited exposure to both, it was obvious even to me that the two were a perfect compliment; Keillor writes (with some hyperbole) about real people doing real things, and Altman somehow gets his actors to perfectly recreate reality. The fact that the characters talked over each other, that things didn't flow seamlessly, that lines were dropped or muffled - all of it fit so perfectly. A great movie transports the viewer into the story. Watching this movie was like being transported into a reality.
There are some amazing performances. Altman assembled a perfect - and decorated - cast. It actually feels like Meryl Streep and Lilly Tomlin, playing the Johnson sisters, grew up in the same Wisconsin household. Streep has perfected the Minnesotan accent; if you pay attention it's there, but you wouldn't normally notice it. Simply brilliant. Garrison Keillor is flawless as, well, himself. Woody Harrelson and John C. Reilly provide a marvelous touch as singing cowboys. Kevin Kline plays Guy Noir, a Sam Spade-type gumshoe, with a dash of inspector Clouseau thrown in for good measure. Tommy Lee Jones plays the cold-hearted Texan businessman, a stark contrast to the Minnesota warmth provided by the rest of the cast. Lindsay Lohan actually shows some acting chops, and through it all floats Virginia Madsen, a perfectly radiant angel.
Altman weaves all of these terrific performances together into a wonderful harmony, as if they were all a different section of an orchestra. Never too much of one actor, but always just enough. With Altman's style I can see how it might turn into a painful cacophony, but this time at least he hits the mark, and the actors sing beautifully together. Both figuratively and literally - there's some very wonderful music throughout the film.
Keillor's script is also right on the mark. Its funny, its touching, and its remarkably philosophical. The story centers on the final show of the long-running radio show, before the Texas corporation shuts it down and builds a parking lot. Naturally this provides the perfect opportunity for reflection on the nature of life, death, family, and more. It isn't in Keillor's nature - or in his script - to sit an ponder. There's always the next song, the next fake commercial, the next story to tell. And that's where the philosophical punch comes in: who has time for reflection when they're so busy living? The irony, of course, is that as these two men - Keillor and Altman - grow older, they're both well aware of their own mortality. This is a film that comes to grips with mortality, that stares it in the face, and says "until it's here, I'm going to keep on living." And that, my friends, is a beautiful conclusion.
This is an amazing movie, and I absolutely recommend it to everyone. There is so much warmth and joy wrapped up in this film, it was almost as if I was surrounded by old friends. Everything about it was just so real. I honestly felt like I was back at home. But, just like any trip home, it was over much too soon.
Final Grade: A+
May you never forget those sweet hours