Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A Prairie Home Companion

Year 2, Day 32 - 2/1/10 - Movie #397

BEFORE: Sticking with the radio theme, this was director Robert Altman's last film, a last-minute addition to the list. IFC ran this last week and I figured I'd pick it up.

THE PLOT: A look at what goes on backstage during the last broadcast of America's most celebrated radio show.

AFTER: I didn't really get this at all, I guess I'm not in the intended target audience since I've never listened to "A Prairie Home Companion", or anything on NPR for that matter.

Some of the songs were entertaining, especially the ones performed by cowboy act Dusty and Lefty (Woody Harrelson and John C. Reilly) and the Johnson Sisters (Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin) but too much of it was delivered with this Minnesota down-hominess that was just too cutesy and charming for its own good.

Of course, radio-man Garrison Keillor was at the center of the show, and he's not without charm - I liked the fake commercials for products like biscuits and local pizza parlors - but is his whole act a put-on? I wasn't sure if I could take him seriously at any point, is the Midwestern act genuine or just something like Spinal Tap or the Folksmen? Is it a satire of Midwestern values, or a winking celebration of them?

Then there were parts that just confounded me - the presence of Lindsay Lohan, for example. She can't act or sing well, so what's she doing there? And Kevin Kline plays "Guy Noir", who acts as the show's head of security, but seems like he just stepped out of a cheesy detective novel. Which raises the question - when does this take place? Is it 1980, or 1930? We can't tell, and is that part of the point? That the music and folksiness of Minnesota is eternal?

In a way, it reminded me of "Synecdoche, New York", but with more music. The stage show is intended to be a microcosm, so the actions on stage are representative of life - we're on stage for a short time, we sing and dance, but eventually the show has to end, and so do our lives. If we're lucky, we managed to entertain and connect with people during our time in the spotlight.

Virginia Madsen appears as a mysterious woman who claims to be an angel, and Tommy Lee Jones plays the axeman sent by a corporation to close down the theater. Apparently there's nothing in the Midwestern value set that prevents doing harm to the axeman in order to save the show...what kind of "angel" does that, the angel of death?

I understand the showbiz types, and how performing is in their blood, and who they are. But a bunch of people telling stories about the good ol' days of showbiz didn't exactly make up an exciting movie for me. And even if you acknowledge jokes as bad, it doesn't excuse them or make them any better.

RATING: 3 out of 10 banjos

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