Wednesday, October 12, 2011
A Prairie Home Companion
Today I watched A Prairie Home Companion, which he directed in 2006. I remember hearing of it, but I guess the title always put me off because it sounded boring. I was sort of anxious about watching it because it's about a real radio show, as well, and I worried that I wouldn't understand any references it might make to actual facts. I was relieved that you could be totally ignorant and still enjoy this movie. I found it really funny and charming, and I had a great time watching it tonight.
The movie is about the last night of the famous radio show A Prairie Home Companion. We get to see what goes on backstage as various acts of the variety show perform. Acts include Dusty and Lefty, the singing cowboys, and Rhonda and Yolanda, singing sisters. A lot of time is spent watching everyone interact and share stories backstage, which is really neat to watch. However, during the performance, a mysterious woman in a white trench coat appears, and even stranger, not everyone can see her. Ooo, mystery and intrigue!
It's not so mysterious as I made it sound, but it's interesting and certainly unique. Spoilers ahead - the woman is an angel, who has come to escort people back to the afterlife. It's pretty cool - way better than it sounds now that I've written it. She's not really angelic seeming, and none of the scenes with her are weird in any way. They're just interesting, and it was sort of tense and exciting to watch her and wonder who she was there for (and in other, later scenes, when she comes for other people). An Axeman comes later, to finally end the radio show forever, and desperately, a note is penned to be taken to the angel - "Can you make him go away?". Spoliers again - later, we see her sit down next to him. And we know. But the plot is not really hugely important, but it's still fun. The sense of humor in it is great. Not too over the top, but really funny because of the quirky characters. It reminded me of a toned-down A Mighty Wind. Maybe, though, because I had seen A Mighty Wind already, I found myself laughing a little too hard at the songs in the film (Come on - that "Bad jokes - oohwweee - bad jokes for me!" song? Where they just tell jokes and sing that weird chorus? That was too ridiculous and awesome). But, you can never be sure.
The cast in this is so impressive, and they do amazing here. I always love to see John C. Reilly - he's a DePaul alumni, so I feel like we are close friends. He was great here, he's always so funny. Wood Harrelson is fantastic and Reilly's cowboy partner, too. Loved Meryl Streep. I even liked Tommy Lee Jones, who is the only real villain in the movie. Everyone was just at the top of their game, here, and it was really nice to watch it. Seriously, there was not one performance that felt off. Altman really knew how to tap into the best of the actors that he was working with. It's what makes his films so great, really. Just good to see more of it here, because it's rare to see so much good acting in one film.
I really love this movie, so I feel weird that I don't have more to say about it. It's a movie that has more merits in it's acting (and thus, Altman's amazing ability to direct actors) than other things. It's so fun to watch because it feels so real and alive. The dialogue is sharp and witty, and the whole movie is really funny and creative. I loved the goofy songs, the off-beat plot, the authentic looking set. Altman shoots using multiple cameras, so to my great enjoyment (I once had to do continuity on a film and now I look for it constantly and notice when it's off), all the reverse shots and other angles feel right and sync up perfectly. He was incredibly talented, and I've adored all of his films that I've seen so far for this project. I really believe that this is a great movie for anyone - old, young, whatever. It's smart, it's funny, and it's so well made (with love, clearly). Let me know if you check this out!
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Ebert's Great Movie Essay on A Prairie Home Companion
Buy it on Amazon