A Prairie Home Companion (PG-13)
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This is inspired by the long-running public radio variety show A Prairie Home Companion, which first aired in 1974, and continues to this day (as of the time I watched the movie and wrote this review, in 2012). The movie actually came out in 2006, so I feel like I should have seen it sooner than this, but... whatever. That's how it goes. Anyway, the radio show, both in real life and in the movie, is broadcast live on Saturday nights (usually from the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, Minnesota). But pretty much any time I've listened to it has been a rebroadcast on Sunday afternoons. I guess it must've been sometime in the 90s, that I started listening to it, occasionally, when I'd be over to my grandparents' house for dinner with my family. The funny thing is, it seems like the kind of radio program one might expect one's grandparents to listen to, but I always listened to it alone. You know, I'm generally not comfortable around people, including my own family (whom I love, and have no reason to be uncomfortable around, other than the miswiring in my brain). And besides, they all talk about stuff that bores me to death. So I'd always head upstairs after dinner, mostly to hang out in my uncle's old bedroom. To be alone. Could do stuff like read, or listen to the radio. Whatever. And this was one program I liked to listen to.
But enough about me. The show is hosted by Garrison Keillor, and of course there's a whole regular cast, as well as guests each week. There're lots of regular sketches, and fake ads, and music. All this performed in front of a live audience, of course. There's something very nostalgic about it; it's the kind of program that simply doesn't exist anymore, aside from this one example, but which once would have been more common. You know, before things like TV and video games and the internet and whatnot came along and started distracting people. It's definitely not the kind of program I'd expect a lot of people of my generation to be interested in, but I always loved it. (It's a shame it never occurs to me anymore to listen to it; I really must try to remember to do so.) By the same token, I'd understand if a lot of people didn't like the movie, either. But I sure do.
Anyway, the movie has a lot of characters, played by an all-star cast. Keillor plays himself (or a ficionalized version of himself, for the show in the movie is a fictionalized version of the real show). There is one rather meta touch, in that one of the major characters in the movie is Guy Noir (Kevin Kline), a private eye who has been working for the fictional radio show for several years, in charge of security. Of course, in the real radio show, Guy Noir is a fictional character from one of the regular sketches (voiced by Keillor). Other characters in the movie include a pair of country singers, the Johnson Sisters: Yolanda (Meryl Streep) and Rhonda (Lily Tomlin). Also, Yolanda has a grown daughter named Lola (Lindsay Lohan), whose father was apparently an old friend of Keillor's, from their early days in radio. There's also a musical/comedy duo of cowboys Dusty (Woody Harrelson) and Lefty (John C. Reilly). (They're regular characters in the real show, played by Tim Russell and Keillor, respectively; in the movie, Russell plays the stage manager.) There's also an older singer named Chuck Akers. And an assistant stage manager named Molly (Maya Rudolph). And there's a mysterious woman in white (played by Virginia Madsen), wandering around the theater. And some of the people who do the real show are in the movie, but they're fairly minor, background characters (aside from Keillor, obviously).
Anyway... Yolanda apparently had a brief romance with the fictionalized Keillor, at some point, and she seems upset that it's over. More importantly, a Texan corporation has recently bought the theater, and an "axeman" (Tommy Lee Jones) eventually shows up to watch part of the final show. Because the company has decided to tear the theater down. So of course, various people (mainly Yolanda and Rhonda) do a lot of reminiscing about the old days. Meanwhile, Lola starts off seeming mildly annoyed by everything, though eventually she takes more of an interest in the goings-on. (Also she writes poetry about suicide, though she doesn't seem to be suicidal.) Guy Noir spends much of his time fixated on the woman in white, to whom he is attracted. Meanwhile, she... well, she's mysterious, and she wanders around. She talks to various people. I sort of guessed at least part of the nature of her role, pretty early on. I mean, it seemed predictable, but still... it was hard to be sure, until she eventually said it straight out. (Her precise nature was more interesting than my vague guess.) Meanwhile, throughout the movie Keillor himself tells a lot of stories to various people, backstage, in his typical style, and most of the time I very much doubted whether anything he said was true. Meanwhile, Dusty and Lefty (especially Dusty) were, um... a bit less wholesome than most of the characters. (There's a general, vague, Christian undercurrent to the fictional show, and perhaps to the real show, though it's not something I've ever given much thought to, and it's not hugely important to the movie's story.) So they cause some stress for the stage manager. Meanwhile, pretty much everyone causes stress for Molly (especially Keillor), as it seems like no one acts like they're aware their own show is going on, except when they're actually on stage. In fact even then, right up to the moment they have to start speaking or singing (and sometimes after they start), they can be doing other things. So of course Molly worries they'll miss their cue, or whatever... but of course, they've all been doing this a very long time (some of them for at least 30 years), so they're very good at it.
Well... there's really not much of a "plot" to the movie. There is one event I don't want to spoil (and actually one other thing, that's related to that event). But mostly the movie is just this sort of long, random, rambling mish-mash of laid-back chaos (and I do love me some chaos). And... there's just a lot of stuff in the fictional radio show that will be blissfully familiar to fans of the real radio show. So it's all just... comfortable. And drily amusing. And there's some good singing. There's sweetness, and bitterness, and... I dunno. A kind of melancholy, perhaps, at knowing it's all coming to an end, after all those years. But at the same time, I felt some relief in knowing that while the fictional show might be ending, the real show goes on....