Making the Grades
After decades of listening to A Prairie Home Companion on National Public Radio, loyal fans of the show should be thrilled to see their friend, philosopher, and host Garrison Keillor appearing larger than life on the silver screen. And for those of you who have no idea what close to four million Americans are listening to on Saturday afternoons, this movie will fill you in on what has become an entrenched broadcasting tradition.
This movie presents a fictitious story revolving around the real Prairie Home Companion. The unique script focuses on the often not-so-innocent goings-on backstage during what is supposed to be the very last live broadcast of the weekly radio show that has run for over thirty years.
Performed from a St. Paul, Minnesota theater, the well-seasoned performers know their roles so well they can complete their job assignments in much the same manner as an auto assembly plant worker puts bolts on a car. The eclectic collection of presenters include The Johnson Sisters (Meryl Steep and Lily Tomlin), the "Old Trailhands" -- singing cowboys Dusty and Lefty (John C. Riley and Woody Harrelson), and various other crooners, gospel singers, and live musicians.
Garrison Keillor, better known as "GK," is the host who pulls all these acts together. (This doesn't take much acting on his part, as he really is the voice of A Prairie Home Companion, as well as the author of the story and screenplay for this film.) Using his dulcet vocal chords, the 30-year veteran creates words that flow softly and melt into the air -- no matter how crazy things may become on stage.
Yet what's happening in the wings of the theater is even more bizarre. Private detective Guy Noir (Kevin Kline) has taken on the role of the show's security guard to earn some extra cash. With a program this benign, it's hard to imagine what there is to protect, until a mysterious blonde woman (Virginia Madsen) shows up dressed in a white trench coat. Although the bumbling gumshoe can't even begin to guess what her intentions are, she immediately raises his suspicions. Meanwhile, the talent speculates about what will happen to their careers after the microphones are silenced for the final time.
Not like any movie you've seen recently, this film presents some surprising musical and dramatic performances from the strangest imaginable mix of people. Streep and Tomlin, and Riley and Harrelson both sing multiple numbers as duets. It's also refreshing to see Lindsay Lohan in a film where she's not the center of attention, allowing her to play a very effective supporting role.
But before you send the teens out to see her, parents should be aware this movie is targeted toward adult audiences and deals with some very mature themes. For instance, Lohan's character muses and writes about suicide, and an unexpected death takes place. As well, sexual comments, innuendo and some profanities are included on various occasions, especially when the Old Trailhands decide to go out with a bang by doing a routine of "bad jokes." While it's not highly offensive stuff, it comes across as more callous and abrupt when interspersed with the light and airy gospel melodies.
Offering more of a musical and "slice of life" portrait than a story with a focused plot, A Prairie Home Companion may provide fans of the actual program some fun entertainment, or it may leave them yearning for the really good old days of live radio.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about A Prairie Home Companion.
How do radio presentations differ from television? How does radio involve more of your visual imagination?
A Priairie Home Companion is actually broadcast each week on National Public Radio in the United States. For more information, or to listen to the show on the Internet, check the official PHC website.