A Prairie Home Companion: Review

On the strength of friend’s suggestion, I decided to check out A Prairie Home Companion. The film is less akin to a typical movie experience and can better be appreciated as a tribute to a lifestyle perhaps gone by. Lily Tomlin, Lindsay Lohan, Meryl Streep, Woody Harrelson, John C. Reilly and Garrison Keillor himself all star in this original film experience.

The plot is….well…. there is no plot. Perhaps it can more appropriately be presented as this: “the setting” is a Minnesota town where a weekly radio show is in the last night of production before the theater where it is produced is destroyed. That’s it. The movie is more a collection of moments and exchanges between the participants in the show. I’m simplifying the plot a bit — there is a thread of intrigue woven amongst the witty exchanges. As simple as the plot may be, I must say that the film is long on charm. This is due in no small part to the star-studded cast. Meryl Streep — for all the acclaim that she has received — never ceases to amaze. Initially I kind of short changed her as getting acclaim because she took on lofty roles. But as she’s shown in her recent film appearances, there is no such thing as a “small part”. (At least not for her.) But her role in A Prairie Home Companion is a large role. And she does a great job giving the character a truly authentic “down-home, apple pie, white picket fence” kinda feel.

When I was in college an English teacher that I thought highly of was a big Garrison Keillor fan. And for years I had been meaning to read one of his books. Well, never really got around to it. But in watching this film, I understand a bit what the appeal was. Garrison Keillor is the writer of the story, as well as the screenplay, and actually plays himself in the movie. His wit is dry, but I kinda dug it. I think this was his first role, and even though he played himself, I thought he did a super job considering all of the talent around him.

I feel like I’m not doing this movie justice — I know there are folks who love it. Having grown up in an urban jungle, I found it hard to catch the story for the first 15 minutes or so. By the time I realized that they were going for something totally different here, I just kinda went with it and in the end, I appreciate what it’s saying. To try and say that there’s a message here probably goes completely against the down-homey kinda feel that they are presenting. But I did walk away from the film feeling that with all of the advantages that our modern, Blackberry and Internet-filled lives have provided us, perhaps we’re missing something much more real and true. The film is actually based on a real radio show done out of St. Paul, Minnesota.

As much as it would be easy to distantly judge these middle America common folk and the theater that they find interesting. However, if we stop and take a a look at our own lives, perhaps our lifestyles aren’t quite that different. Recently I’ve spent considerably more time listening to podcasts from folks that I barely know about tech topics. When I stop and consider, it isn’t so different from shows like this. There’s a special quality that radio possesses. You can’t move your arms or raise your eyebrows to convey emphasis. I find the podcasts I take in weekly providing more entertainment than many of the shows that I used to frequent. (For one, podcasts allow me to work while I listen — well, sometimes they do.) Perhaps this is why I’m not feeling deprived despite the fact that we are in the middle of a writers strike.

Often folks will tell you that, “this is not a film for everyone”. Well, this really isn’t a film for everyone. If you’re in the mood for action or even the least bit of plot and twist in story, maybe you should skip this one for now. But if you have any level of appreciation for a country-living, Thomas Kinkade-kinda lifestyle, then you’ll find something special to take away from this film. Not really my cup of tea, but I must say that it’s a prolific look at a way of living that I don’t know much about. Would be nice to spend some time there someday.

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