Reviews of Recent Independent, Foreign, & Documentary Films in Theaters and DVD/Home Video

Lindsay Lohan as Lola
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Directed by: Robert Altman.
Produced by: David Levy, Tony Judge, Joshua Astrachan, Wren Arthur & Robert Altman.
Written by: Garrison Keillor.
Director of Photography: Ed Lachman.
Edited by: Jacob Craycroft.
Released by: Picturehouse.
Country of Origin: USA. 105 min. PG-13.
With: Woody Harrelson, Tommy Lee Jones, Garrison Keillor, Kevin Kline, Lindsay Lohan, Virginia Madsen, John C. Reilly, Maya Rudolph, Meryl Streep & Lily Tomlin.

At this year’s Academy Awards, Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin presented an honorary Oscar to director Robert Altman, offering a humorously affectionate and zany example of the Altman touch in their introduction as both actress rambled on, overlapping and interrupting each other. That brief presentation exuded more charm and individuality than anything in the director’s new film, an adaptation of the public radio hit, which features the two actresses in its mid-size ensemble.

Since 1974, Garrison Keillor has written and starred in A Prairie Home Companion, set in the Midwestern town of Lake Wobegon, “where the women are strong and the men good-looking.” A perceptive and beguiling yarn spinner, Keillor brings the self-effacing and stoic Minnesotan Lutherans to life with great intimacy. But the film version, instead of employing vignettes or compelling stories similar to the series’ distinctive spirit, leaves the actors out on a limb with just a bare outline for them to flail on the own, vamping for airtime not unlike a Saturday Night Live sketch that has a beginning and a middle but no end in sight. (SNL’s Maya Rudolph also appears here, as a glum, gum-smacking, eye-rolling floor manager. Her character’s disdain for her surroundings will rub off on the film’s audience.)

The threadbare plot occurs during the last fictional broadcast of PHC. The program’s radio station has been sold and the Axeman (Tommy Lee Jones) has eyed Keillor’s show for cancellation. Filmed at the Fitzgerald Theatre in St. Paul, the home base of the actual series, all of the show’s sets will soon be dismantled, the cast and crew disbanded. Guarding the backstage is Guy Noire, private eye (Kevin Kline), one of the radio characters brought to life, along with the singing cowboys Dusty (Woody Harrelson) and Lefty (John C. Reilly). Also appearing for the last hurrah are the Johnson Sisters – Yolanda (Streep) and Rhonda (Tomlin). Yolanda’s teenager daughter Lola (Lindsay Lohan) straggles behind her mother and aunt. And as always, Keillor emcees. But the Altman touch is more of a push, with Tomlin speaking almost non-stop more for effect than for substance, lest the audience realize that there really is nothing going on here. The sense of place that Keillor captures over the airwaves is only half-heartedly attempted (at least Streep adds a Fargoesque-speak to her arsenal of accents), while a chunk of the film is taken over by Virginia Madsen as a beautiful blond angel of death sauntering backstage on the lookout for her next victim.

Although there’s an attempt to replicate the radio show’s annual April Fools' Day tribute to bad jokes in a Dusty and Lefty singing duet, the humor is strained, from the farts of a decomposing corpse to Kline’s pratfalls – the cast’s meandering improv might have worked if the characters had some objectives. Kline appears to be especially lost as to what to do; his character kills time by becoming fascinated by the blinking red light of the backstage phone and even at one point offers champagne to a very pregnant Maya Rudolph. Amid the veterans and Academy Award winners, it’s Lindsay Lohan who appears relaxed rather than desperate to be funny. Although she is mostly an observer, even Lola has a clichéd moment in the sun when she is thrust on stage for the first time to sing on her own (but having dropped the song’s lyrics in the dressing room, she must fumble her way through “Frankie & Johnny” in yet another painful attempt at humor.) Lohan’s latest film makes the mild Mean Girls look better and better. Kent Turner
June 9, 2006



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