A Prairie Home Companion Poster
For those unfamiliar with Garrison Keillor’s thirty-two year-old radio program by the same name, you may need some background. Then again -- maybe not. Some literature requires a guide- like Shakespeare or Joyce– but I suspect Keillor, at one time a young Minnesotan English major, would cringe at the thought; but he would have a story to tell.
A Prairie Home Companion Review
Keillor is, to many a faithful listener, the master of story telling. It may be best to assume the same watching this film.
The story is the radio program, broadcast, as it most often was, from the Fitzgerald Theater in St. Paul, Minnesota. Though for years, Keillor and company have taken his show on the road, to sell-out crowds of the fifty-something generation and the young adults who recognize their parents in many of Keillor’s tales.
But at it’s core is music. Bluegrass, folk, country, blues–anything to remind us of the heart and soul of middle America. Put aside those prejudices; it is Bible country but it’s not politics as usual. The skits on the original program poke gentle fun at everyone (Keillor himself is an old fashioned Democrat raised in a fundamentalist church).
But put that aside watching the film. Meryl Streep and Lilly Tomlin, the fictional Jonhson sisters reminisce backstage (the film is the two hour radio program in more or less real time) with those on stage coming through old speakers about the quality of those in old drive-in movies. Johnson and Streep are the fictional Johnson sisters (some of the Scandinavian flavor so common to the real show) singing backstage: “Jesus is calling” and bemoaning the end of radio.
Much of the activity happens backstage, but the fun is onstage. Woody Harrelson
and John C. Reilly are two cowboy singers, partners for years (as are all the cast) tormenting the FCC and the stage manager with their bawdy songs and jokes. It is remarkable how many actors can sing, (Streep is especially easy to listen to).
Live radio may be a thing of the past, but Keillor keeps it alive. However, the movie’s plot has this their last performance before the heartless character of Tommy Lee Jones lowers the boom. He is in attendance to watch the last show.
Kevin Kline is the narrator and one of Keillor’s beloved radio characters, Guy Noir. Virginia Madson, in a white trenchcoat, more noir than Noir himself, skulks about claiming victims to join her for the big Radio Show in the sky.
Linsey Lohan plays Meryl Streep’s suicidal daughter. Forget the tabloids. She is a sweet young girl again. And she sings too.
So kick off your shoes. Put up your feet and relax for a good old-time radio show with a little bit for everyone, even the sponsors. Don’t look for a plot or you’ll miss the characters.
Some of the players from the original radio cast are in the film, but in different roles: Sue Scott as the make-up lady, Tim Russell as the stage manager, and Fred Neuman as the best sound effects man you will ever see. And the band, they are great.
A Prairie Home Companion is about the people who loved and lived radio. And they all have a story–or if you have time, they’ll keep you up all night, and throw in a song or two. Wouldn’t you love to be able to join in at the opening guitar chord and sing with the group? And know all the words? It’s the best of both worlds: real and hoped for.
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