A Prairie Home Companion
Garrison Keillor has one of the homeliest faces in America, and one of the most beguiling voices. He loves to sing, but he’s not particularly good at it; he can carry a tune, but not elegantly. He is absolutely bursting with stories, both funny and sad, he is witty, compassionate, folksy, intellectual … I could go on and on, but the point here is that he was certainly born to have his own radio show. The format plays to every one of his advantages, and reveals few of his shortcomings. And so what if he’s not the world’s best singer? It’s his show, he can sing when he damn well pleases!
If you love his show (and I do) you’ll probably love this movie. Robert Altman, the man to see if you want to make a movie with a large ensemble cast, has made a little gem from Keillor’s script. The only thing missing is the news from Lake Wobegon, and I’m sure it’s not there because Keillor, a famously shy person, didn’t want to hog the stage for 20 minutes. This is as much a backstage story as a radio show on film, and every part of it works wonderfully. I know some people think the whole PHC business is gooey and sentimental, and I can only think those people haven’t taken the time to listen to an entire “News” segment. Sure it’s nostalgic, and gently funny (sometimes hilariously funny, in the tradition of cracker barrel tall tales), but there is always pain underneath it. These home folks suffer the same angst as city folks do … only they’re Lutherans, they don’t complain about it, they take it as life’s due. I’ve been listening for about 20 years now, and by golly, he’s never failed me yet. In my book, Garrison Keillor is about as close to Mark Twain as Americans are ever likely to get again.