Thursday, November 09, 2006

Prairie Takes Some Getting Used To

Prairie Home Companion (2006) was hard for me to get into. And whether it was just a slow start — or my general mood — it's only just now (four days after watching it) that I'm really starting to enjoy it.

I found the second half to be substantially more interesting, and more comical, than was the first. I think what was missing, for me, was a previous relationship with the Public Radio show of the same title.

Afterall, Prairie Home Companion, the movie, is a fictional story about the "final broadcast" of the popular radio variety show. I believe the radio show is actually alive and well and — though the movie borrows from the show's skits, guests and the like... Garrison Keillor — the "real" radio show's creator/star, and the writer of this movie — is the primary link between the radio show and the film.

It's for this reason that the film bears a sort of resemble to mockumentaries, though we're never once led to believe that the "characters" have any idea they're being filmed (which differs substantially from most mockumentaries). At one point one character — the man responsible for the show's cancellation — even notes that he "wishes" he'd thought to have the final show taped for posterity's sake.

The story goes a little like this: the (fictional) stars of the (real) radio show all gather for their last hurrah; their station has been purchased by a big company who's revamping everything, and cancelling the show. Backstage they're all clearly nervous about their lives post-PHC, and frankly a little sad to close this chapter of their lives. On stage, various performances (throw backs to performances on the actual radio show, I'm told) continue and various other "monkey wrenches" are thrown into the mix.

Death also makes an unusual appearance, and presents one of the more compelling aspects of the film (insofar as we get the feeling that — try as we might — there's no way to separate comedy from tragedy in that bittersweet circle of life).

In short, I found this "comedy" to be markedly depressing (but not in a way typical of most black comedies). And because it's also slow moving (as are most Altman films), I had a difficult time really enjoying myself. But, as I mentioned in this review's leading line... the more I think about Prairie Home Companion — and the more I write about it — the more I like it.

It's that sort of film. The sort that's somewhat touching; somewhat comical; somewhat insightful; somewhat depressing; and, yes, even a tad boring. It's a little of everything (go figure, it's based on a variety show), none of which struck me as being altogether interesting until long after I ejected the disk from my DVD player.

Truth is, I never quite know what to say about Robert Altman films. I always find them intellectually compelling on one level, and yet altogether boring on another. And, yes, I know. I should be ashamed of myself for dissing the much-reverred filmmaker.

But I can't help it. You're reading a review by the same girl who nearly boycotted the 2001 Oscars in protest of all those accolades heaped onto Altman's Gosford Park (a film that, again, I only enjoyed casually after-the-fact).

Oh, well. There's no question people like what he's doing. I guess, in a way, Altman is a little like the tortoise in that proverbial race with the hare: he keeps a slow, steady pace and yet somehow always comes out ahead in he end.

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