Dir: RobertAltman. US. 2006. 103 mins.

RobertAltman's homage to America's favourite radio show, Garrison Keillor's APrairie Home Companion, is a largely spirited affair, despitea few sagging moments. Paradoxically, though, the film may play better in Europeand other territories than in North America, where its central plot of asoulless corporation overtaking a beloved, if superannuated, culturalinstitution may be seen as a bit shopworn.

Keillor'sold-timey, tongue-in-cheek show has been running on National Public Radio forover 30 years. The film, scripted by Keillor himself, imagines the show isbeing taken off the air by a shadowy villain (Jones), who regards it as longpast its prime. The film, then, represents the last show.

Altman's filmseamlessly blends real variety acts with cornball fictional ones such as TheJohnson Girls (Streep and Tomlin) and the singing cowboys Dusty and Lefty(Harrelson and Reilly) and when the singing gets a-goin', the St. Paul,Minnesota, Fitzgerald Theatre, where the show is broadcast live, startsjumping. To his credit, Keillor as actor seems completely at home among theseveterans, and Lindsay Lohan has a nice comic turn as Streep's suicide-obsessedpoet daughter.

Though old prosStreep and Tomlin look like they've been singing together for years, the highpoint of the film is the Bad Joke song, in which Harrelson and Reilly strive tooutdo each other in grossness. Another great moment comes when the radiosound-effects man nearly busts a gut keeping up with a song of the JohnsonGirls. Americans, though, will miss in the film what most take to be the radioshow's raison d'etre, Keillor's own homespun, archly ironic stories from LakeWoebegone.

In any case,Altman's reach here is compromised by Keillor's relatively thin script, whichloses some steam in the middle. One gimmick that doesn't work at all is anunfunny sub-plot involving the bumbling theater security guard Guy Noir (Kline)and Asphodel (Madsen), the angel of death. Even in an overt fable such as thisone, it comes off as plodding and unimaginative, though Kline's slapstick andhis Raymond Chandleresque dialogue (which unfortunately disappears 10 minutesinto the film) partially save the day. Some scenes, such as the one with GuyNoir and a very pregnant assistant Molly (Rudolph), fall painfully flat.

This is areasonably entertaining film, but nevertheless falls quite short of theachievement of such Altman ensemble masterpieces as Nashville, M*A*S*H, and ShortCuts.

GreeneStreet Films
River Road Entertainment
Sandcastle 5
Prairie Home Production

Capitol Films

Picturehouse (North America)
Medusa Film (Italy)
Bac Films (France)

Robert Altman
Wren Arthur
Joshua Astrachan
Tony Judge
David Levy

Garrison Keillor

Edward Lachman

Production design
Dina Goldman

Jacob Craycroft

Key cast
Woody Harrelson
Tommy Lee Jones
Garrison Keillor
Kevin Kline
Lindsay Lohan
Virginia Madsen
John C Reilly
Maya Rudolph
Meryl Streep
Lily Tomlin