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  April 9th, 2012       Posted by Frederik       Display Comments

This week’s movie is Robert Altman’s farewell to radio – and his own farewell to the film industry – “A Prairie Home Companion”. This week we go a bit beyond the usual updates on a film, as I’ve uploaded Meryl’s 2006 appearance at the actual “A Prairie Home Companion”, where she performed at their Independence Day Special. You can watch her performance in two parts in the video archive. You can also find audio files of her on-stage performances in the audio section. As for the film, new quality screencaptures, promotional stills and video clips have been added to the archive. You can find production notes and my review after the cut. And, as always, please share your thoughts on the film in the comments.

Production Notes

Director Robert Altman and writer Garrison Keillor join forces with an all-star cast to create a comic backstage fable about a fictitious radio variety show that has managed to survive in the age of television. Shot entirely in the Fitzgerald, except for the opening and closing scenes which take place in a nearby diner, the picture combines Altman’s cinematic style and intelligence and love of improvisation and Keillor’s songs and storytelling to create a fictional counterpart to the “A Prairie Home Companion” radio show. The film uses the musicians and crew and stage setting of the actual radio show, heard on public radio stations coast to coast for the past quarter-century (and which, in real life, continues to broadcast). The result is a compact tale with a series of extraordinary acting turns, especially Kevin Kline’s elegant Keaton-esque detective and Lily Tomlin and Meryl Streep’s singing (Goodbye to my Mama) and their beautiful portrayal of two sisters who talk simultaneously.

Cast members did their own performing including singing and playing instruments. They performed live in the theater, not a prerecorded studio session as is typical of music performed in movies. Michelle Pfeiffer was originally slated to play the mysterious “Angel of Death”, but then backed out of the project. George Clooney was offered the role of detective Guy Noir, but was forced to turn it down due to scheduling conflicts. Tom Waits and Lyle Lovett were originally slated to play singing cowboys Lefty and Dusty. For insurance purposes, and in the event that 80-year-old director Robert Altman was unable to finish shooting the film, Paul Thomas Anderson was employed as a standby director. “A Prairie Home Companion” was nominated for the Silver Bear at the 2006 Berlin Film Festival, it won the festival’s Reader Jury award. Meryl Streep received a Best Supporting Actress award by the National Society of Film Critics.

Frederik’s Review

Robert Altman has always been one of my favorite directors with his unique style of telling complex stories and always featuring stunning ensemble casts. I consider “Short Cuts” and “Gosford Park” my favorites. Also, “Three Women”, a 1977 nightmarish film with Sissy Spacek, is a masterpiece. So knowing and respecting Altman’s style, there’s little bad to say about “A Prairie Home Companion”, an ode to love and death and a farewell – unfortunately, Altman’s farewell to the film industry, being his last movie. It surely helps to know the original “A Prairie Home Companion” radio show to know what these people do for a living. If you didn’t grow up with radio shows like this, or even knowing of their existence, you will need some time to get into the mood of this film. Much like a mockumentary (although not in the same style like Christopher Guest’s films), you get to know each performer and employee of the show, their thoughts and discussions (and with the Johnson Sisters, there’s lots of discussions). There’s displeasure in the air, not only because it’s the last show, but because somebody of the group will die – as we learn through the appearance of a mystery woman. The film feels much like an eclipse, characters come and go, talk, perform – the film could go on for hours, and therefore sometimes feels a bit slow, but the actors make it worth. I especially enjoyed Woody Harrelson and John C. Reilly as Dusty and Lefty. Streep and Tomlin play like they are actually sisters and know each other for decades (which they probably do). Their acting and overlapping discussions are flawless. And Meryl’s singing is equally superb. The rest of the cast, from Kevin Kline to Tommy Lee Jones to Maya Rudolph is an enrichment as well. Even Lindsay Lohan, who plays Meryl’s daughter. It might be unfair to say, but looking back and seeing that Lindsay Lohan once worked with Robert Altman and Meryl Streep, you get an idea of what a career she had. I’d recommend the film to every Altman fan and to people who enjoy a slower, bitter sweet movie.

8 Responses to “Movie of the Week: A Prairie Home Companion”

Great Movie! ♥

Apr 09, 12 at 7:08 pm

I really love this movie!
it’s the only Altman movie I ever saw and to be honest, I only bought the DVD because of Meryl, but I wasn’t disappointed at all. As you already pointed out, it’s definitely an ensemble piece.
What else is there to say? I love the music and I love the midwestern vibe it has. It’s a movie about real people – no special effects needed!
It’s also kind of sad that Lindsay Lohan who had the potential and the opportunities to have a great acting passed on that chance.
Anyway, I’d recommend everyone to watch this movie, it really is a good one :)

Apr 09, 12 at 7:51 pm

This movie is decent. It’s easily forgettable from my point of view. It doesn’t showcase Meryl’s acting force that much but it highlights Meryl’s beautiful singing. I agree that the movie is quite slow from time to time.

Apr 09, 12 at 8:14 pm

This movie is just wonderful, it doesn’t feel constrcted but real, it’s as if you get to be in the dressing room with them and just watch their conversations which are hilariously funny at times. Meryl and Lily are especially adorable together.
As I understand the whole movie had a lot of improvisation which creates a feeling that is unlike other movies – I love that quality about it. The actors are fantastic too, everyone of them as well as the singing, Meryl just blew me away in this!

Apr 09, 12 at 9:07 pm

Really enjoyed this one. It was a Meryl movie I hadn’t seen until recently. Liked the dynamic between Meryl and Lily and, of course, enjoyed Meryl singing :)

Apr 10, 12 at 3:28 am

Love this movie! we get to hear Meryl sing she has a great voice. I wish they would release a CD with all her songs for her films.

Apr 10, 12 at 6:30 pm

I like this movie so much, because it’s slow, but in a very nice way. There is no real story, at least not a complexe one.
It’s about the last evening of a special radio show and no one really wants it to end but can’t avoid it.
There is so much going on on and behind the stage and it’s simply a wonderful ensemble film in which no one steals scenes from the other but just fit perfectly together. All songs and singers are great and I’m happy I have the soundtrack.
Definitely one of my favorite films. 8)

Apr 10, 12 at 9:15 pm

I saw this movie in the theater when it first came out and it was a real crowd pleaser! You could tell that everyone in the audiance really enjoyed this one! when it came out on video I bought the DVD for several friends and family members and it was a huge success! Meryl is so beautiful in this film and whenever she sings it’s always a real treat! She and Lily Tomlin were perfect as sisters. I have been in Lindsay Lohan’s corner for years and I just hope that she gets her act together and that her career fulfills the true promise that we see in a film like this with real actors, a wonderful director and a delightful script. If only Meryl were actually Lindsay’s mother; she would be on top of the world right now!
But back to the film at hand; the entire cast shines, but as usual Meryl steals the film….. her voice, her beauty, the soul that she seems to infuse into her role….. Lovely!
And I LOVE the meandering feeling and backstage vibe throughout!
A Robert Altman movie is always something special and this one, for many reasons, is in a class by itself!
Bravo, Mr Altman, Garrison Keillor, Meryl & the rest of the cast & crew!

Apr 10, 12 at 10:41 pm


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