A Prairie Home Companion (USA, 2006)

a prarie home 1 - CopyDirected by: Robert Altman and P.T. Anderson. I included P.T. Anderson on the director credit not because I have any special knowledge about the details of their particular collaboration, but because I thought it was interesting, and because you don’t see a two-director credit very often. I’m sure the whole story behind this film’s making is pretty interesting, especially because it’s Altman’s last. I have to say, though, that this isn’t Altman’s best (even though I have only seen probably a quarter of his films or less). This last one is one that I could see being confused easily with a Christopher Guest movie if you only knew it from the trailer (which I did until recently), and I’m not sure if that’s a compliment or not. It’s an observation, anyway. I could also see how this could be confused with a P.T. Anderson movie if it weren’t so damned light and fluffy. This is perhaps the lightest, fluffiest, family-friendliest, geriatric-friendliest film Altman ever did, and I suspect that my difficulty in placing it within his filmography (or within my own “auteur theory lite” of Altman) is due to the fact that I was only barely aware of the source material radio show. (In Canada, the closest thing to this radio show is Vinyl Cafe, whose host Stuart MacLean seems to be a slightly more annoying version of Garrison Keillor.) This movie is probably much closer to the sensibilities of the radio show than to Altman’s brand of avuncular, post-beatnik, Vietnam-era American cynicism. Keillor’s vision is one of togetherness, the triumph of idealized, simplistic, rural, backward-looking, communitarian Americana. In this film, that rosy-cheeked Rockwell shmaltz doesn’t necessarily withstand the bulldozer of modern progress, but it certainly shines brightly as a beacon of truly American grassroots “authenticity”, and the film’s lack of resolution at the end only serves to underpin the idea, inherent all along, that the country (and by extension, the world) will be lacking a great deal of something special with the loss of this obsolete radio show and its cast of kooky characters. On a personal, human level, for reasons specific to the way that I saw this movie and the particular 2-day span in which I became acquainted with this movie, I definitely enjoyed it, and I’ll always keep a little piece of it in my heart (etc etc etc). On the other hand, the entire, just-barely-bearable Hoover Dam of saccharine sentimentality that powers this movie was only just tolerable to myself—mostly because of my appreciation of Altman, of Kevin Kline, of Tommy Lee Jones, of a lot of the stuff in this movie—and I can definitely see how a casual viewer could describe this as simply an awful movie. I do like Altman, and I was warming up to Keillor, but as a rule, I hate musical numbers, I hate homespun sentimentality, and I hate Norman Rockwell. This is definitely the smartest, knowingest example of all of that shit you’ll see, but I’m not sure how much that justifies getting through this movie. But, just to be really contrary, I really liked it anyway and I’ll probably watch it again and again.

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One response to “A Prairie Home Companion (USA, 2006)

  1. Pingback: Mad Max: Beyond the Thunderdome (Australia, 1985) | Offhand Reviews·

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