When some people hear the name Robert Altman, they picture an acclaimed filmmaker who always seems to rear his head at the Oscars in some form or another. When I hear Robert Altman, no matter how hard I try, I think of "Gosford Park," which, while a critical darling, was one of the dumbest, most pointless and most boring movies I have ever watched. So, with great trepidation did I plug "A Prairie Home Companion" into my DVD player... and how pleasantly I was surprised.
"A Prairie Home Companion" takes a fictional look at the last day of broadcast for the real show "A Prairie Home Companion," a radio variety show that offers random jokes and songs that one has to hear to get a sense of what this program is all about. Being of young years I know absolutely nothing about this radio show, nor, had I known something about it, would have ever listened to it on the radio. That being said, Altman's movie is an entertaining, heartwarming mini-masterpiece that offers an amazing cast, a great screenplay and lots of good music, even if it is music I wouldn't be caught dead listening to in any other place or time.
I won't go into how good each individual cast member is, because all do sensational jobs no matter how large or small their roles are. Instead, I will just list the cast members and you will know exactly what I'm talking about: Woody Harrelson, Tommy Lee Jones, Kevin Kline, Lindsay Lohan, Virginia Madsen, John C. Reilly, Maya Rudolph, Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin. Garrison Keillor, who wrote the movie and who also is the creator of the radio program, is fabulously entertaining (and by looking at him I understand why he went into radio, no offense meant).
The movie itself really has no plot whatsoever, as Altman instead opts to meander through his cast members as they contemplate the show's end, perform what they love to perform, deal with a tragedy on the set, and so on and so forth. Amazingly, this movie proves that you don't always need a specific story to deliver a great movie, as the pacing is perfect, the characters well written, and the ending superbly done.
The only character that seemed utterly out of place (and I believe Altman felt the same way), was the Dangerous Woman (Madsen), who seemed to be more symbolic than a real person. While she handles the character more gracefully than that symbolic military dude in "World Trade Center," she seemed out of place in this picture.
The movie really has no faults. It is an entertaining variety show and then some, filled with intriguing and deep characters that take this presentation to the next level. While it's not necessarily an Oscar-type film, it is its own masterpiece in its own way.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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