IT WAS a stroke of genius for Garrison Keillor to ask Robert Altman to make a film of his radio show, “A Prairie Home Companion”. Mr Keillor is a humorist in the noble tradition of Fred Allen and Jean Shepherd. Meanwhile, Mr Altman—at 80, the recent recipient of a heart transplant and an honorary Oscar—has softened the satirical punches that rained down on show-business in Nashville to focus on what he and Mr Keillor have in common, namely a love of American oddballs and a passion for American music.
As Mr Keillor's script would have it, the long-running show is finally being shut down. A hatchetman played by Tommy Lee Jones, sent by the new owners of the Fitzgerald Theatre, watches the last performance from the client's booth, where a bust of F. Scott Fitzgerald glowers at him. So it is sub specie aeternitate that the Keillor clan displays its talents, large and small, for the last time: Rhonda and Yolanda, the Johnson Sisters (Lily Tomlin and Meryl Streep), who have been finishing each others' sentences for 30 years; the Singing Cowpokes, Dusty and Lefty (Woody Harrelson and John C. Reilly), who deliver a final volley of blue-tinged dumb-Swede jokes with sovereign indifference to FCC regulations; Chuck (L.Q. Jones), an old trouper who may or may not have enough life in him to warble one last song and bring off one last tryst with The Lunch Lady (Marylouise Burke); and Guy Noir (Kevin Kline), Mr Keillor's parody of a hardboiled detective, who has been put in charge of security.
As Mr Keillor rambles through an account of how he started in radio, which keeps being interrupted by the tasks at hand, he is the perfect onscreen spokesman for Mr Altman's loopy free-associative style. At the same time, no Altman film can resist the temptation to wrap things up with a Big Idea—in this case Death, played by Virginia Madsen in a white raincoat. Like her, the impending cancellation is inevitable, so the only suspense concerns what Yolanda's grim-faced daughter Lola (Lindsay Lohan) will sing when circumstances oblige her to make her impromptu debut at the end of the broadcast. Threatened at one point with “Amazing Grace”, the audience is let off easily with a sassy rendition of “Frankie and Johnnie”—the first of several endings for a film the director obviously doesn't want to end at all, any more than anyone else does.
How can you have an Altman movie without a creepy Lyle Lovitt loitering somewhere in the background, or making threatening phone calls?
By 7:58 AM, at
And I love seeing Tom Waits in just about anything. Too bad both of them had schedual conflicts that prevented them from being in the film. Altman has something kind of similar in Nashville where a then unknown Jeff Goldbloom keeps showing up riding his chopper thru various scenes without ever speaking.
I'll have to check out Nashville--I haven't seen that one yet.
By 11:05 AM, at << Home