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Location: New York, New York, United States

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Lighter than Air: A Prairie Home Companion

Floating gracefully onto and off of the screen, a dreamy cotton-candy cloud, Robert Altman’s A Prairie Home Companion is never less than charming and rarely more than featherweight entertainment. It’s a masterly piece of direction and cinematography (or more accurately, Hi-Def videography), applied to material that is hardly even there.

Musical numbers glide in and out, and they too are more charming than really good. I had a perfectly blissful time watching this movie, and you may too, if you keep your expectations in check.

The premise is that a Big Evil Corporation from Texas is taking over the radio station and/or the theater where the weekly radio variety hour is produced. We are watching the valedictory performance. The show actually seems a little anemic and underpopulated, but this doesn’t matter a great deal to the movie itself.

The performers seem understandably happy to be nestled in such a beautiful cinematic framework – actors love Altman and the feeling is obviously mutual. Meryl Streep and John C. Reilly are standouts, both playing singers in the radio show. Each is in a duo act, and their partners, Lily Tomlin and Woody Harrelson respectively, are also plenty charming.

Your patience toward the plot device of a visiting angel in a white trenchcoat (she’s both a guardian of the company and a herald of death) may determine how much you like the movie as a whole. I rather enjoyed this part of the wispy script, written by "Prairie Home" radio creator/star Garrison Keillor himself. But I wouldn’t be surprised if it caused eye-rolling among some viewers.

At any rate, try to see the film in a theater with a big screen (it’s shot in ‘scope) and good sound, and just bask in the gorgeous craftsmanship and the pleasant company the cast provides. You could do a lot worse.

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