Tuesday, March 27, 2007

A Prairie Home Companion: Grade F


A Prairie Home Companion (2006)

Garrison Keillor, Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin, Kevin Kline, Tommy Lee Jones. Directed by Robert Altman (his last).

Written by beloved radio host Keillor, this movie purports to show the last live radio broadcast of PHC. It is an unstructured mélange of video clips, dominated by really bad singing of sappy airheaded songs. Streep and Tomlin manage to sing without embarrassing themselves, but it’s not good, by any generous measure. So why do it?

Kline does a pathetically lame Inspector Clouseau bit for no purpose. Keillor’s humor hinges on using “funny” words like “tweezers” and “Oshkosh” in meandering, mind-numbing anecdotes that make me want to scream.

The body of the film is an endless stream of inane songs, interspersed with old people displaying early Alzheimer’s by recounting their mundane youth in irrelevant detail to anyone who will listen. Tommy Lee Jones has a few good lines but he mumbles. The famous Altman overlapping dialog is evident but is obviously scripted, which misses the point.

The photography and directing are undistinguished. The camera becomes dizzying as it zooms and pans repetitively in a desperate attempt to add interest to Streep and Tomlin’s droning. I avoided this film as long as I could but my wife encouraged me to rent it, out of curiosity. She agreed in the end that it has no redeeming virtue. I confess I have never been a PHC fan and I actively dislike Keillor’s manufactured sing-song intonations on NPR, but I love Altman, and all these actors, so I went in without prejudgment. Call me un-American, but this movie is a dog.

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