AMY PARSONS: Review: Altman's 'Companion' Is a Film Worth Remembering
Who knew Robert Altman could be kind of warm and cuddly?
Based on Garrison Keillor's eponymous long-running radio show, the film beckons us to join a radio troupe as they perform their last live broadcast. Keillor is the ringmaster, introducing acts, hawking local goods, waxing melodic about duct tape, and even briefly revisiting a lost love affair (with Meryl Streep, no less). He drolly delivers his lines without a wink to the camera and comes off as the true star of the film.
As with all of Altman's films, we are introduced to a plethora of characters and several storylines. There is the singing sister duo of Yolanda and Rhonda Johnson (Streep and Lily Tomlin, respectively), and Yolanda's daughter, Lola (Lindsay Lohan). Yolanda and Rhonda run through their family tree with a nostalgic awe, even as Lola sullenly pens suicidal poetry.
We have Lefty and Dusty (John C. Reilly and Woody Harrelson), a bickering cowboy act whose jokes run a little blue and whose songs are belted out with twangy defiance. Guy Noir (Kevin Kline) is the cinematically monikered detective, although it's never quite clear why a detective is necessary to the show. Guy is the first person to notice a mysterious woman decked out in a white trench coat roaming backstage (Virginia Madsen) who claims to be the Angel of Death. There is also Tommy Lee Jones as the Axeman, who cometh to shut down the show.
"A Prairie Home Companion" is peppered with gently humorous lines (Keillor notes that Midwesterners are prone to pessimism: "If you should feel really happy, be patient; this will pass"), toe-tapping country music and the sort of warmth you feel as you bite into a piece of bread straight out of the oven. There is palpable delight watching Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin act together, although Keillor and Kline attempt to steal the show.
"A Prairie Home Companion" is a peaceful film that doesn't force itself on you. Perhaps the message Robert Altman wants us to remember is found in an exchange between Keillor and Lola. She asks if he wants people to remember him. He says, "I don't want them to be told to remember me."
Amy Parsons is a Pinehurst freelance writer. She may be reached at email@example.com.
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