Friday, May 22, 2009

A Prairie Home Companion @ the Charles Theatre this week

This is the last film in the Robert Altman series.

Saturday, May 23 at noon
Monday, May 25 at 7 PM
Thursday, MAY 28 at 9PM

2006 Robert Altman. Screenplay by Garrison Keillor. Kevin Kline, Lindsay Lohan, Tommy Lee Jones, Garrison Keillor, John C. Reilly, Woody Harrelson, Meryl Streep, Virginia Madsen, Lily Tomlin. 105m.

In retrospect, it's difficult not to feel that Robert Altman knew A Prairie Home Companion would be his swan song. Forget the quibbles about whether it faithfully replicates the popular, long-running radio show (it doesn't) or about whether you need to be a PHC fan to appreciate it (you don't). Altman always tended to take over his collaborators' material and make it his own, and this quietly moving film about a fictional radio show's last broadcast is no exception. In this case, his purpose is clearly larger than merely paying homage to Garrison Keillor, the boomer generation's favorite storyteller. In truth, Altman's PHC is a bittersweet homage to all lost or endangered entertainments-from vaudeville to radio to, yes, even some forms of filmmaking-that have managed, however fleetingly, to elude the clutches of the corporate beast. This may be why the director took such pains to cast Lindsay Lohan in a key role as a promising but suicidal representative of the next generation; her convincing turn poignantly reminds us that the tabloid princess is a gifted actress. Despite some longueurs, there are other miracles here, among them the transcendent duets between Lily Tomlin and Meryl Streep as the Johnson Sisters, a pair of C&W has-beens, and Peckinpah veteran L.Q. Jones as a crusty old-timer. Tin-eared critics have complained about the film's corniness, an odd complaint about a film that eschews every conventional plot constraint, whose casual, loosely knit structure is more radical than most anything on contemporary screens. Is it one of Altman's best? No. But in its mix of defiance, melancholy and sardonic laughter, it is treasurable and lasting and deeply Altmanesque. (Linda DeLibero)