A Prairie Home Companion

A song of love . . .

?It?s not true that I had nothing on. I had the radio on.? Marilyn Monroe about posing nude on her famous calendar.

If there is anyone more laid back or brighter than Garrison Keillor in show business, let me know, because Robert Altman?s new comedy, A Prairie Home Companion, based on Keillor?s long-running Minnesota Public Radio saga, shows Keillor as an audience sees him each week?like a god gently guiding an eccentric ensemble through excellent performances made to look as easy as his demeanor. This film stands near Altman?s Nashville as a testimony to the director?s gift for sustaining strong characters in layers of dialogue approximating overlapping conversations at an interesting party.

Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin as the singing country Johnson sisters bring back memories of Reese Witherspoon?s amazing turn as June Carter and Streep?s own previous country singer in Postcards. Ditto Woody Harrelson and John C. Reilly as the singing and joking Dusty and Lefty. But best of all is Kevin Kline as Keillor?s real radio creation, Guy Noir, the ?40?s dapper, inquisitive, naughty narrator and security head for the production. Klein embodies the melancholic mood always at least hidden underneath any show?s last show, despite Keillor?s nonchalant assertion that every show is your ?last show.?

Around this realistic, charming premise of talented performers at their last performance, writer Keillor interjects a ghostly beauty in a white leather trench coat, Virginia Madsen playing Dangerous Woman, the spirit of death, gently accompanying those about to die and the moribund show itself. The character is a lyrical embodiment of the theme that nothing lasts but the love shared in any experience. Keillor remains in character after someone dies by stating he doesn?t ?do eulogies.? Nor does he do one for the show, which in real life still lasts in St. Paul from 1974.

So enjoyable are Altman, his ubiquitous HD camera, and his busy dialogue that you feel a part of the proceedings, catching the sweet smell of success for an ensemble attached to this thoroughly realized song of love to radio, music, and creativity.