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A Prairie Home Companion

A film review by Gary Chew

GARY CHEW/Sacramento

Low-balling radio intellectual that he is, Garrison Keillor avoids ostentation for his film debut in "A Prairie Home Companion," which everyone in public radio (off air) calls A-P-H-C. Henceforth, that's how I'll refer to it. (I don't want to waste too much ink here.)

Garrison so wants to low-ball his first scene, he stands fully clothed in his dressing room about to go to the onstage microphones, minus his trousers! Just some very long-legged, blousy boxer shorts droop down nearly to his boney, but expeditious knees. The pregnant stage manager (SNL's Maya Rudolph) urges GK to hurry and finish dressing. It will soon be air time on Radio WLT (With Lettuce and Tomato).

Eighty-one-year-old Robert Altman is the director of APHC. And, he gives it one of his best turns with that Altman brand of existential photoplay. It works rather well, too, because the radio show we see in APHC is…well, the radio show…from beginning to end; except for a couple of scenes to set up stuff. Those take place in a Saint Paul diner that's to die for. Man, would I love a cheeseburger, fries and a cup of joe in that Minnesota eatery. For readers knowing Tulsa, this clean greasy spoon brings back memories of Elmo's Grill once at 15th and Yale.

If there was ever a laissez-faire broadcast host, it would have to be Keillor, despite the likelihood he has little in common with Ayn Rand. But don't let all this laidbackness and let-it-be fool you. There's lots going on here besides just an entertaining film.

Keillor, Tomlin, Streep and Lohan

Keillor, Tomlin, Streep and Lohan

With a subtext of death dealt to us covered in light comedy, we find it's the last broadcast of APHC, but no one seems to be stressing about it, least of all GK. Not even Yolanda and Rhonda, the singing Johnson Sisters (Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin). Cowboy cooners Dusty and Lefty (Woody Harrelson and John C. Reilly) don't seem to be bent out of shape either. They have no problemo singing some great, rather blue songs (lyrics by GK) that stir guffaws across the darkened Fitzgerald Theater…not to mention the cinema in which you're may be sitting after reading this.

The teenage angst that does surface in Yolanda's daughter (Lindsay Lohan) does so not because this is APHC's final broadcast, but that life has been so hard for the young lady. She writes suicide poetry. There's hilarity here.

Guy Noir, one of the continuing characters heard for a long time on the actual APHC radio show (usually played by GK) is taken on masterfully in the movie by the veteran actor of all kinds of films, Kevin Kline. I think the only person who might have done this role better would've been the late, great Peter Sellers, sans English accent. That should give you a clear impression of how Mr. Kline plays Mr. Noir. Kline's Noir is responsible for security while APHC is on the air. Guy seems to be lingering in the late 40's or early 50's insofar as what he wears and how he thinks. But Noir does have good taste in busts of famous and deceased American literary figures. (Gotta see the movie for this one.)

Tommy Lee Jones and Virginia Madsen

Tommy Lee Jones and Virginia Madsen

Altman and Keillor give APHC a transcendental touch with Virginia Madsen, who plays a "Dangerous Woman". Clad in a white raincoat, she quietly stalks the set of the radio show as a merciful angel of death. Only parts of this work. Some of it is not as effective as other schtick in APHC, despite the fact I'm in love with Virginia ever since "Sideways."

APHC is being cancelled because a Texas conglomerate has purchased the land on which the Fitzgerald Theater sits. The corporation will "install" another parking lot for downtown Saint Paul after razing the beautiful, old building. During the broadcast, a representative of the company arrives to look the place over. He's played by Tommy Lee Jones and referred to as "The Axeman." I think there could've been more of Jones in the film. The relevance of Axeman is weighty.

This character played by Jones is why I suggest in my review of "An Inconvenient Truth," that our president, George W. Bush, may wish to see APHC since he's indicated he doesn't plan to see the global warming film in which a warning is voiced by former Vice President Al Gore. (reviewed here by Chew)

Unfortunately, since writing the review for the environmental documentary just out, as well, I've come to realize that our president will likely not enjoy APHC. I forgot that Garrison Keillor's latest book is titled, "Homegrown Democrat."

Webmaster: In the late 1970s, reviewer Gary Chew, then Station Manager of the University of Tulsa's KWGS-FM, added "A Prairie Home Companion" to their nascent roster of shows. APHC is still there today.

Here is a circa 1984 flyer for a live, homebrew version of APHC on KWGS in association with the Praxis Project.

"A Prairie Home Companion" opens Friday, 6/9, at the Circle Cinema. A portion of all ticket sales for this engagement of Prairie Home will go to KWGS.

Keep your Prairie Home ticket stub for a free dessert with any dinner at Wild Fork in Utica Square.

"A Prairie Home Companion" official movie site.

"A Prairie Home Companion" official radio site.

Gary Chew can be reached at garychew@comcast.net.

Copyright © 2006, Gary Chew. All rights reserved.

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