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Film / A Prairie Home Companion

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A Prairie Home Companion is Robert Altman's last film, released in 2006. Loosely adapted from Garrison Keillor's radio variety show of the same name,note  it stars an Ensemble Cast and Garrison Keillor As Himself.

Long-running radio variety show A Prairie Home Companion, hosted by Garrison "G.K." Keillor, is performed live at the Fitzgerald Theater in Saint Paul, Minnesota; however, the station's parent company has sold the Fitzgerald to developers to demolish and replace with a car park, and they have sent "The Axeman" (Tommy Lee Jones) to determine whether to save or cancel the show.

As PI Guy Noir (Kevin Kline) acts as security for what the audience don't know to be the show's final broadcast, the cast members reminisce and deal with various personal crises. Said cast members include the singing Johnson Sisters, Yolanda (Meryl Streep) and Rhonda (Lily Tomlin) and Yolanda's death-obsessed daughter Lola (Lindsay Lohan), singing "trail hands" Dusty (Woody Harrelson) and Lefty (John C. Reilly), elderly singer Chuck Akers (L.Q. Jones), heavily pregnant PA Molly (Maya Rudolph), and various crew members (including actual PHC regulars Tom Keith, Sue Scott, and Tim Russell). Hovering in the background is a mysterious woman in a white trenchcoat (Virginia Madsen) whose conversations with the cast and crew gradually reveal her true nature and agenda.

Tropes from the movie:

  • Angel Unaware: Asphodel
  • As Himself: Garrison Keillor. Actually, the character he playes is credited as "G.K.", with some notable personality differences: the Real Life Keillor doesn't have any problems with giving memorials on the radio, including moments of silence, and is only slightly less of a Cloud Cuckoo Lander than his film equivalent.
  • Central Theme: Death seems to be a major recurring theme. Interesting since Robert Altman himself died shortly after the films release.
  • Chekhov's Gun: Lola's macabre poetry is used as impromptu song lyrics when the radio program needs to fill in six minutes of dead air.
  • Cloud Cuckoo Lander: Guy Noir most definitely and a lot of his clients; Garrison to a lesser extent.
  • Continuity Nod:
    • The station the film's version of APHC airs on, WLT, first appeared in Keillor's novel WLT: A Radio Romance.
    • There also seem to be several subtle nods to earlier Altman films. A live radio show featuring Country Music recalls Nashville (as does having Lily Tomlin in the cast), Guy Noir is reminiscent of the portrayal of Philip Marlowe in The Long Goodbye and a mysterious, otherworldly blonde woman in a long coat also played a prominent role in Brewster McCloud.
  • Crosses the Line Twice: In-universe, the stage manager (played by PHC regular Tim Russell) almost has a stroke at Dusty and Lefty's performance of "Bad Jokes", which starts with a verse about a blind man's guide dog pissing on his shoes and being "rewarded" with a steak so the man knows where to aim for when he kicks the dog's ass, and it gets more vulgar from there. The implication is that Dusty and Lefty know they won't be recording another episode anyway, so they're determined to have fun with their final number.
  • Dead Air: After one of the singers passes away backstage during the show, they briefly consider having a moment of silence for him on the show.
    Garrison Keillor: Silence on the radio? I don't know how that works.
  • Deadpan Snarker:
    Lola Johnson: This isn't really going to be your last show, is it?
    Garrison Keillor: Every show is your last show. That's my philosophy.
    Rhonda Johnson: Thank you, Plato.
  • December–December Romance: Country singer Chuck Akers and the crew member he is engaged in a whimsical romance with are both about seventy.
  • Failure Is the Only Option: The Axeman from Texas who's come to cancel the show takes his final trip with Asphodel and it makes absolutely no difference, because with or without him, the cancellation is going to happen anyway.
  • The Grim Reaper: Asphodel.
  • Metafictional Title: The film is a fictional behind-the-scenes look at the making of the A Prairie Home Companion radio show.
  • Mood Whiplash: Done brilliantly when the Johnson Sisters' heartbreaking duet "Goodbye to my Mama" is followed up immediately by Dusty and Lefty singing "Bad Jokes" which is 4 1/2 minutes of pure, unadulterated comedy.
  • Murder Ballad
  • Nice Guy: Several characters including Chuck, Dusty, and Lefty are very easygoing and pleasant people.
  • Odd Name Out: Yolanda, Rhonda, and their sister Wanda have names ending with "nda", while their sister Connie (and their baby brother Johnny) don't.
  • Only Sane Man: The two stage managers, hustling around behind the scenes trying to make sure the show happens despite the talent.
  • Parody Commercial: As in the radio show, G.K. and his fellow performers pause between performances to shill such fictional products as Beebop-a-Ree-Bop Rhubarb Pie (nothing gets the taste of humiliation out of your mouth quite like it!) and Powdermilk Biscuits (in the familiar blue box).
  • Pun: Most of the jokes in the "Bad Jokes" song.
  • Remake Cameo: Radio show cast members Tim Russell, Sue Scott, and Tom Keith appear as crew members. (Keith is debatably As Himself, as his role doing sound effects is also a function he fills on the radio show.)
  • The Show Must Go On: A theme explored in all its facets, with some of the cast members, especially Lindsay Lohan's character, thinking Keillor is a little callous when he refuses to pause when one of their own dies during production.
    • The film's credits avert this, it plays over the cast singing and performing even After the End.
  • Show Within a Show: The eponymous APHC.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: It's nice that Altman's last film is one of the few that actually leans more on the idealistic and sentimental side.
    • Moreover, it's a film about endings. When the hammer comes down, you put on one more show, take a bow, and leave. And that's okay.
  • Small Role, Big Impact: Chuck doesn't have much screentime but his death plays an important part in the stories themes.
  • Sound-to-Screen Adaptation
  • Straw Critic: The man in charge of closing the show.
  • Those Two Guys: Dusty and Lefty
  • While Rome Burns: The singers bravely put on one last show for the memories.
  • "Well Done, Son" Guy: "Well done daughter woman", more like. Guy Noir helps quite a few people with these issues.