A Prairie Home Companion
I can't really say I'm a big Robert Altman fan. For me Short Cuts and The Player were very enjoyable and clever, and I enjoyed the natural style he pulled out of the film, but I haven't seen enough of his work to rank him in my top five directors.
Yet with the news of his passing and this being his last film, I really felt the need to go and see A Prairie Home Companion. This isn't even mentioning the strong ensemble cast list and the possibility of a similar style to the two Altman films I've seen before.
The idea of the story itself wasn't even that interesting to me, but went I did, and boy did I enjoy it.
A Prairie Home Companion is a film about many things, about friendship, love, life, death and the passing of time. It's about a long running radio show which is broadcast live in front of a stage audience. It's firmly rooted in the past, bringing on musical acts who sing or play out each sponsored introduction live and seamlessly head into their routine.
The players are always the same people and so they have developed a sense of family and belonging. This is all threatened as a few members of the radio show know that the axe man is coming. The small, local radio station has been bought over by a larger, leaner corporation, and they've sent someone over to shut them down.
Guy Noir believes he can turn things around, with the help of a beautiful lady who has been seen around the stage the last few days.
The film opens with a superb credits sequence followed by a surprising film noir introduction. Instantly there's a sense of merriment as Noir, played by Kevin Kline, begins the typical Spillane type voice over, and the camera descends to street level. You watch as he walks past the camera and we turn to see the theatre looking quite busy and we see how out of place this old school detective is against modern life.
Once his voiceover has finished and we're acquainted with the setting, we're pulled into the thick of the behind the scenes of a live stage radio performance. We travel through different areas, meeting different characters and begin to get some understanding about them.
As we meet the characters there's an instant feeling of being with real people, of being somewhere warm and welcoming. It's a feeling that seems to carry through everything in this film, from the script to the music, and from the characters to the direction.
Conversations crossover, are partially drowned out by background noise, and leap into song or taper into nothing. This is something I loved about the film and it really helped to make that feeling of reality in the conversations, that and the superb cast.
Kline is amusing throughout, although there's an incredible shake to his hands during certain scenes, his character has the most fun and takes us through the entire film.
Streep is stunning and she provides such a wonderfully natural and warm performance. Harrelson and Reilly are as funny as Kline and their bad joke song is quite a funny scene.
Lohan was perhaps the biggest surprise in the casting, amongst these heavyweights I expected her part to be lost, but she copes well. Her one big chance shows she does have talent, and by the end of the film she's looking as relaxed and as natural as the rest of the cast.
It's an excellent film that Altman has directed beautifully - and I'm not just saying that because he has left the stage, I really do mean it - it's warm, inviting, and the camera is always taking you along the journey as though you were one of the family.
The success of the film is also down to Keillor's wonderful script which is so natural, witty, and filled with enjoyable songs which carry the same welcoming warmth as the rest of the script. It's very amusingly written, and I don't mean that in the offhand use of the word that's tinged with sarcasm, but in the genuine way which keeps you smiling throughout the film with chuckles and knowing smiles.
For those of us who don't (or in my case didn't) know who Keillor is, in the UK you might know him as the voice of the wonderful Honda adverts. The latest one with the robot has is warm and god-like voice gently telling us the wonders of human existence, and just how great it all could be.
All of this talent still wouldn't carried across the screen as well without the superb cast which seems so much like a family when they are on screen together, particularly Streep, Kline, Tomlison and Keillor himself.
All in all this is an extremely warming film that despite covers some sad and quite reflective topics, particularly with hindsight, and yet it does touch you in a positive way and welcomes you in to its bosom. Definitely worth seeing to get that warm and fuzzy feeling inside.