The last time Garrison Keillor was mentioned here, he was the subject of some disparaging comments concerning his radio program A Prairie Home Companion. That was then, and this is now.
The movie A Prairie Home Companion, directed by Robert Altman, is now in theatres and it is a success on many levels, a redemption of sorts for both GK and Mr. Altman. The all-star ensemble: Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin, Lindsay Lohan, Kevin Kline (and many others). The premise: a fictional "last performance" of the show, the plot is merely the barest of skeletons upon which to hang the real story- one of aging, death and delusion, played out in the ephemeral world of a radio performance. All of the characters (except one) are living a step or two removed from reality, with all the rationalizations and self-justifications that all performers must use to portray themselves and their performances in their best light. That they are fifty years out of sync with the rest of the world only heightens the dramatic effect.
But the show, even if it is the last one, must go on, and it is a good one. This is not a concert film, but the music is played live with no post-production. In those moments the characters' charades are left behind and they are just real people singing real music. The real surprise here is Lindsay Lohan's Frankie and Johnny, sung with feeling and cleverly acted (her character lost her lyric sheet so she had to adlib.)
Ms. Lohan's character "Lola" is the pivot point of the movie. Garrison's script wisely shows her as the only person in touch with what's going on, both externally and internally, she is ultimately the movie's only survivor.
Robert Altman's direction is so effective as to be almost invisible, certainly the greatest compliment any director can receive. There are many complicated and extended scenes that flow beautifully, and there are also stationary shots that are composed with an artist's vision.
One final comment: The extras seen in the backstage shots are all legendary Minnesota musicians who have contributed greatly to the "real" show over the years. Their ghostly presence is a fitting tribute to their PHC legacy.