Friday, 29 March 2013

A Prairie Home Companion (2006)

In 2006, Robert Altman's final film was released. We knew that it was not long before he would sadly, have to say goodbye, not only to the great world of film making but to the entire world. As I mentioned  more in depth in my review of Cookie's Fortune, Altman had cancer and he knew he didn't have long. That is the reason Paul Thomas Anderson was hired to backup for Robert Altman in case he wan't able to complete A Prairie Home Companion. However, Paul Thomas Anderson later claimed he knew that Altman wasn't about to die. He knew he had another film left in him. And so, Altman did. A Prairie Home Companion could be the greatest farewell a filmmaker has ever embedded into their film.

Being a great ensemble drama, it's hard to believe that cast could have been any different. However, George Clooney was original supposed to play Kevin Kline's character, Guy Noir. Michelle Pfeiffer was supposed to play Virginia Madsen's character, Dangerous Woman. Tom Waits and Lyle Lovett were also originally hired for the holes of Left and Dusty, but the roles ended up going to John C. Riley and Woody Harrelson.

A Prairie Home Companion began because Robert Altman's wife would constantly demand that he make a  film about "A Prairie Home Companion" (which was a live radio broadcast, the last radio live radio broadcast). Knowing he had very little time left, Altman decided to give into his wife's wishes. This resulted in A Prairie Home Companion. Garrison Keillor was to play himself, the real host of the show. Who better to write the film screenplay but Keillor? Apparently the original screenplay wasn't too good. Altman and Keillor were both in agreement, that the screenplay wasn't all too good. So they agreed that Keillor would have to write more drafts. Each draft that Keillor wrote would be turned back to Altman. Altman would read each of them, and his note to Keillor would always say the same thing "you're getting closer".

Robert Altman was on of the directors who never actually got to work with Meryl Streep, until his final film. Streep was a big fan of the films Altman produced, in fact, she had always dreamed of being directed by him. When she was offered the role, she accepted in as she claims "in a heartbeat". It appeared to be worth it, as after their first meeting, Altman said that she was"25% above anyone else". He later claimed he was a fool not to have worked with her earlier in his lifetime.

My favourite scene in the film is when Guy Noir, played by Kevin Klein, pulls out a bottle of champagne and fires the cork out of the frame. There is a sudden pause, followed by a very quiet "ow." This "ow," was coming from Robert Altman behind the camera. The cork had hit him right in the head. Kevin Kline said "sorry" and continued the scene. This is the take we see in the film, proving Robert Altman must have had some semblance of a sense of humour about himself.

Where does A Prairie Home Companion stand today? Well, some critics love it, and others don't. Roger Ebert put it into his "The Great Movies" list, where it currently stands today. A Prairie Home Companion holds an 86% on Rotten Tomatoes and a 6.8 on IMDb. It is Altman's last work, and it currently works as a final film.

We open up on the last night of the live radio broadcast, A Prairie Home Companion. Guy Noir is a detective, acting as a security guard backstage of the show. As the film progresses, we get to meet the unique characters. There's GK, the show's host, there's the Johnson siblings who are two elderly singing women, there's Dusty and Lefty - two outrageous cowboys who use their guitar as their charm, The Axeman who is making sure that A Prairie Home Companion will come to and end, there's Lola, who is the daughter of one of the Johnson siblings, Molly, the stage manager making sure everything is nice and smooth, and finally, the Dangerous Woman, a young woman lurking around the stage in a white trench coat.

Will this be the final show? What will happen to our beloved character in the end?

When you start your film on the last show of something that has spanned the course of many people's lives, you're guaranteed a very nostalgic film. The fact that this was a real show certainly adds to that effects. I never listened to the real "A Prairie Home Companion", but the film still manages to make me feel a sad sense of an ending as the show meets it's tragic demise. Altman uses many techniques to bring this out. The first he uses, is very likable character we get to know and understand.

The acting in A Prairie Home Companion is nearly flawless. Kevin Kline powerfully takes on the role of the pulpy detective in all the good ol' film noir pictures. John C. Riley and Woody Harrelson don't have much material to work with, but they manage to give us a smile and a laugh. Meryl Streep gets to sing in a better film that Mama Mia!, and she has a far superior voice than many professional singers. Meryl Streep, like always, acts with power and emotion in her voice and her body. What can I say about her acting that has not been said millions of times before? Garrison Keillor is possibly the best of everyone, but that could be due to the fact that he's actually lived through this millions of times. Virginia Madsen's character is, however, slightly unnecessary, but she still embodies the rule to the best possible degree. Lily Tomlin delivers a fairly average performance. She leaves us with no doubt but to compare her to Meryl Streep. Once you've been to Meryl Streep, you're lucky to even be considered as average. Finally, Lindsay Lohan was actually not too bad. Her character seemed fake, not because of the acting, but because of the writing. Overall, Lohan was not quite as bad as we would have assumed, due to Altman fabulous direction on this film.

At times, A Prairie Home Companion dwells on the fourm of spirit and religious existence. Most of this aspect of the film emerges from Virginia Madsen's character, Dangerous Woman. As I mentioned earlier, I am not quite sure the film benefits from this in any way. To be a very good film, it does not need to suddenly supply us with superficial views on the human existence. I know that Madsen begged Altman to give her a bigger part, because Altman originally agreed with me in thinking that her character was unnecessary. The character of Dangerous Woman is Altman trying to let himself off the hook for not making his film 'artistic' enough. But this is a film that didn't need to artistic. And that aspect of the film just leaves us in a very confused manner. The execution of this is rather awkward, and I wish it had been removed from the final cut.

A Prairie Home Companion is a fun film, with some great performances, but it seems Robert Altman wasn't exactly sure when to bring the knife down on the film and cut it out.

A Prairie Home Companion,
Directed by Robert Altman,
Starring: Garrison Keillor, Kevin Kline and Meryl Streep
7/10 (B)

1. 3 Women
2. The Player
3. Nashville
4. Brewster McCloud
5. Gosford Park
6. A Prairie Home Companion
7. Cookie's Fortune
8. Fool For Love

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