Entertaining and pleasant if not insightful
"As we say in Lake Wobegon, 'It could have been worse.'" Garrison Keillor
One of America's foremost humorists, Garrison Keillor, has lived a life that could have been much worse. Peter Rosen's documentary, Garrison Keillor: The Man on the Radio in the Red Shoes, is full of the Lake Wobegon creator's homey and witty observations about mostly middle American life, in whose presence he always shows reverence laced with comical irreverence. By any standard, however, his has been an extraordinary life as National Public Radio star of A Prairie Home Companion and commentator on America.
Rosen's pleasant doc takes a random route in Keillor's contemporary life at around age 65. Keillor has a nine year old daughter, whom he obviously loves, and audiences who adore him, he seemingly never tiring of their presence and love. Rosen shows him to be a keen listener and interpreter, slow paced in his red tennis shoes, observing and commenting on their and his comical failings. His love of American life is best expressed toward the end of this spare treatment: "Kindness is a constant presence in America. ... This is a great country, and it wasn't made so by angry people." He is kind, and the people he loves are kind.
The casual nature of the entertaining doc is like his own radio show and his life, replete with understated wisdoms and unscripted until he is inspired, which is most of his waking hours. Rosen takes us on this enjoyable trip while he keeps the real Keillor protected from revealing his deepest fears and greatest inspirations that lead to his bright writing and wry delivery.
In other words, Minnesota's rural charms are open to the joy of observation, as the South is in Flannery O'Connor's eccentrics, but Garrison Keillor remains a partial mystery. Besides his love of his daughter and ordinary people is his deep affection for music such as gospel and retro blues, among other genres. The documentary shows his wide-ranging appreciation from practically the first frame.
The most we can hope for in getting the real Keillor is the fetching diffidence of his last line about leading an "ordinary life": "It was good enough." His life is neither ordinary nor just good enough: This doc shows Garrison Keillor an unusually gifted social commentator with a wicked wit and exceptional musical sensibility.
We should all be so ordinary.