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"A Prairie Home Companion"

Directed by Robert Altman.
Written by Garrison Keillor.
Starring Kevin Kline, Meryl Streep, Woody Harrelson and Virginia Madsen.
Release Year:  2006
Review Date:  6/26/06


I took my sister Cate with me to see the new Robert Altman flick "A Prairie Home Companion", and here's what she said upon leaving:

"That was probably a good flick...for old people."

Admittedly, "A Prairie Home Companion" moved slow, but I think even not-so-old people (like, say, 30-year-olds) will like the rambling style of Altman combined with a script by Garrison Keillor, who fronts the real-life radio show of the same name.  In the movie, we get a glimpse at the show's final night (imagined, since I don't think the show has gone off the air as of yet), complete with a behind-the-scenes look at how the show comes together, performances by some of the show's longer-tenured performers (played here by Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin as the surviving half of a four-woman crooning troupe, as well as Woody Harrelson and John C. Reilly as a cowpoke twosome), perspective from the show's current security man, Guy Noir (Kevin Kline) and a visit from...a local angel (Virginia Madsen)...that used to listen to the show???

Hmm.  It's this last part, in addition to a sometimes-slow run of scenes, that bring "A Prairie Home Companion" down a couple of grades; the addition of the Madsen character left me wondering what better use of screen time Altman, Keillor & Co. could have come up with, because I thought all of those scenes were useless.  Madsen does her best to play the dreamy creation, but the idea that everyone sees her character and that the Kline character putters around looking for her and makes her a security risk and that she moves from one place to another like a ghost...all of it could have been tossed.  It adds ten minutes of nonsense to a film that doesn't have room for any; worse, it takes away ten minutes from the film's best elements, like the relationship between the two sisters played by Tomlin and Streep, or the Kline character's random soliloquies on life, noired-out like his last name, or the antics between the production staff (most prominently led by Maya Rudolph and Tim Russell) and Keillor.

As such, I thought the movie was a mixed bag, but for those more familiar with the radio show or those that love Altman films (when you're directing films at 80 years old, this is the speed of your movies!), I think you will really enjoy "A Prairie Home Companion."  There are some quiet laughs, great performances, and a good snapshot of what it takes to put on a production of any kind, be it stage, radio or otherwise.  I thought the singing of Streep in particular was solid; the hammy staging of the line delivery for Guy Noir was my favorite set of scenes in the movie.  But, soon after I left the theater, I started to forget about this film; at least it was entertaining while I was there.  Strangely, though, I DO want to have some buttermilk biscuits right about now...

Rating:  Matinee


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Bellview Rating System:

"Opening Weekend":  This is the highest rating a movie can receive.  Reserved for movies that exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development, setting...or Salma Hayek.  Not necessarily in that order. 

"$X.XX Show":  This price changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently, it is the $9.50 Show.  While not technically perfect, this is a movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.  "Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca", but you'll have a great time watching.  The $9.50 Show won't win any Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see "Office Space"). 

"Matinee":  An average movie that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.  Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about yourself.  A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave the theater saying "That wasn't too, did you see that Lakers game last night?" 

"Rental":  This rating indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one."  Mostly forgettable, you couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the video store was out of copies of "Ronin."  If you can, see this movie for free.  This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a half stars." 

"Hard Vice":  This rating is the bottom of the barrel.  A movie that only six other human beings have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen.  A Shannon Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a movie.  Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or "Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!  (Warning:  strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard Vice"-rated movies.)

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All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09