A Prairie Home Companion

on June 09, 2006 by Annlee Ellingson
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Set during the final broadcast of a fictional version of Garrison Keillor's real-life radio variety show -- which is still on the air after 25 years -- this backstage fable is particularly suited for auteur director Robert Altman. As his camera floats in the wings of St. Paul, Minnesota's Fitzgerald Theater, conversations burble and purl in and out of earshot like water in a brook. (The delivery can be lulling, but pay close attention because the dialogue is often hysterically funny.) There's little plot, except for the imminent curtain call due to corporate takeover, so the action centers around the characters -- a mix of Hollywood stars, character actors and Keillor's own crew.

There's Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin as headliners Yolanda and Rhonda Johnson, a country duet act and veterans of the county fair circuit. Lindsay Lohan as Yolanda's daughter Lola, who finally makes her debut on the show, only to forget the words. Kevin Kline as Guy Noir, a private eye whose lack of clientele in the Midwestern metropolis necessitates his moonlighting as a bouncer backstage. Woody Harrelson and John C. Reilly as cowpoke comedians Lefty and Rusty, aka The Old Trailhands. And then there's Keillor himself in a drolly self-deprecating performance as a sort of rambling old man whose stories everyone's heard and who constantly needs to be reminded to zip up his "barn door."

Meanwhile, adding further texture are "SNL's" very pregnant Maya Rudolph as the much-put-upon stage manager, seething with impatience, and the wonderfully nuanced L.Q. Jones as a musician giving his literally last performance, a strong public face barely masking heartbreaking anguish. With all this rich characterization, Virginia Madsen's mysterious stranger -- an angel of mercy? -- feels gimmicky and distracts from the otherwise wonderful work. Starring Garrison Keillor, Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Tommy Lee Jones, Lily Tomlin, John C. Reilly, Woody Harrelson, Virginia Madsen, Maya Rudolph and Lindsay Lohan. Directed by Robert Altman. Written by Garrison Keillor. Produced by Robert Altman, Wren Arthur, Joshua Astrachan, Tony Judge and David Levy. A Picturehouse release. Comedy. Rated PG-13 for risque humor. Running time: 105 min

Tags: Garrison Keillor, Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Tommy Lee Jones, Lily Tomlin, John C. Reilly, Woody Harrelson, Virginia Madsen, Maya Rudolph, Lindsay Lohan, Robert Altman, Wren Arthur, Joshua Astrachan, Tony Judge, David Levy, A Picturehouse release, Comedy, self-deprecating, heartbreaking, anguish, veterans, metropolis, moonlighting
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