'A Prairie Home Companion'
Filmed entirely on location in St. Paul, Minnesota, "A Prairie Home Companion" takes place on what could be the final night of Keillor's long-running radio program. Even in a world dominated by television, the show remains vibrant, but a
It's difficult to watch the movie and not think of Altman's masterful career, his health problems over the past decade and the fact that every film could be his last. But the director, whose gift for orchestrating orderly chaos is on perfect display, never allows the film to get morose. Keillor, who wrote the loosy-goosy script integrating many of the popular characters and faux commercials from the radio show, declares, "Every show is your last show -- that's my philosophy" and Altman approaches "PHC" the same way.
With most of the movie shot backstage and on-stage at the real Fitzgerald, Altman indulges in a playful balancing act, working with cinematographer Ed Lachman to dart all around the theater, capturing moments, rather than plot points. Altman's favorite technical tricks -- his love for overlapping dialogue and for seemingly meandering hand-held camerawork -- have been perfectly suited for this kind of behind-the-scenes peek in the past and this is no exception, as he makes the most of his cramped quarters.
Watching Tomlin and Streep work with Altman is a particular pleasure. When they sing, the two veteran performers work in confident harmony and they carry that harmony over into the speaking parts, alternating the leads in different conversations and weaving their words in and out in synch. Harrelson and Reilly also show flexibility on-stage and off, while Kline's work is full of subtle comic touches, both verbal and physical. Such is Altman's gift with actors that he even makes Lohan seem fresh-faced and innocent and he builds the film to a climax in which the occasional pop tartlet makes the most of her thin voice to sing a moving rendition of "Frankie and Johnny." Even Keillor, awkward and hardly ready for tight close-ups, adds to the movie's genial tone.
"A Prairie Home Companion" isn't an ambitious movie for Altman, but rather an intimate gem. It's a warm meditation on a world that once was and a time capsule recording just in case it's never accessible again.