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A 'Prairie Home Companion' Piece for the Screen

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A 'Prairie Home Companion' Piece for the Screen



A 'Prairie Home Companion' Piece for the Screen

A 'Prairie Home Companion' Piece for the Screen

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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The Robert Altman adaptation of Garrison Keillor's long-running radio show, A Prairie Home Companion, is a fictional behind-the-scenes look at a radio show's final broadcast. The film features Meryl Streep, Woody Harrelson and Lindsay Lohan.


Most weeks around a half dozen new movies get released and our critic, Bob Mondello, reviews the one he thinks will be most likely to interest public radio listeners. Some weeks he has a hard time picking the right movie. This week, it was a no-brainer.

BOB MONDELLO reporting:

Whoever thought you'd hear these words coming from a movie screen at the cineplex.

(Soundbite of A Prairie Home Companion)

Mr. GARRISON KEILLOR (as himself): Hello, everybody, on Saturday night. Welcome to a live broadcast of A Prairie Home Companion.

MONDELLO: And who'd have imagined that the guy who says them would seem so at home up there? Much of the appeal of radio is that it exercises your imagination, where the appeal of movies is that they do the imagining for you.

In the case of A Prairie Home Companion, the movie, what screenwriter Garrison Keillor has imagined is what's going on backstage at the final broadcast of a fictional show that's more or less the one we know. Sort of an alternate universe version, where Guy Noir is the security guy at the Fitzgerald Theater, which is about to be torn down by a nefarious Texas corporation to put up a parking lot.

(Soundbite of A Prairie Home Companion)

Ms. MERYL STREEP (as Yolanda): You're going to say something about it.

Mr. KEILLOR: What am I supposed to say?

Ms. STREEP: You're going to talk to the people, aren't you? Say thanks for listening or something? Yeah, you know. Why not? They thank you.

MONDELLO: That's Yolanda, half of Yolanda and Rhonda, a country music sister act. She has a bit of a history with the host, which keeps threatening to bleed from backstage to onstage.

(Soundbite of A Prairie Home Companion)

Ms. STREEP: You know that's why I think that our romance was so short, because I knew that when we broke up you would not cry, so I got way over it.

MONDELLO: Keillor's gotten way over to the mike.

(Soundbite of A Prairie Home Companion)

Ms. STREEP: Does that make sense to you?

Mr. KEILLOR: Bee bop a ree bop, frozen rhubarb pie and frozen rhubarb pie filling. Wouldn't this be a good time for a piece of rhubarb pie? Yes, one little thing can revive a guy and that is a piece of rhubarb pie.

MONDELLO: Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin do their own singing as Yolanda and Rhonda, as do Woody Harrelson and John C. Riley as cowboy cutups Lefty and Dusty. Kevin Kline, looking like he just stepped out of 1938, is a wonderfully clueless Guy Noir.

And director Robert Altman blends these Hollywood types with the real Prairie Home Companion gang, including the band and sound effects guy Tom Keith, who gets a nice moment in the spotlight.

One of Altman's first jobs was in radio and with his fondness for overlapping dialogue and meandering storyline, he's just the guy to be bringing these folks to the screen. He and Keillor have made sure that the dressing room chatter is just as wayward as the chatter on stage, whether it involves an angel of death who was once a Prairie Home Companion listener or Yolanda and Rhonda talking about their sister, Wanda, once arrested for stealing a donut.

(Soundbite of A Prairie Home Companion)

Ms. STREEP: It's on the news.

Ms. LILY TOMLIN (as Rhonda): And her hair's like sticking out like this and she's bawling and daddy sees it on the 10:00 newscast.

Ms. STREEP: Because he was in the hospital with Mama. She was having her tubes tied after Johnny was born.

Ms. TOMLIN: Thank you.

Unknown Woman: Didn't need to know that.

Ms. STREEP: Well -

Ms. TOMLIN: Daddy sees Wanda getting arrested on TV for shoplifting. He has a major coronary occlusion.

Ms. STREEP: Yeah. He just climbed up into the hospital bed with Mama. And he pulled the sheet up over his own face and when the nurse came in he was dead.

Ms. TOMLIN: He left a note, because Wanda got released from jail just for the funeral and it said, Wanda, you broke my heart. Signed, Daddy.

Ms. STREEP: She did 30 days for one glazed donut.

Ms. LILY TOMLIN: A 59-cent donut.

Ms. STREEP: Think about that.

MONDELLO: Talk of mortality notwithstanding, this rambling, shambling movie is as light on its feet and as lively as the show it celebrates. I'm Bob Mondello.

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