SFiFF xiv: A Prairie Home Companion

USA 103 minutes
Directed by Robert Altman, Written by Garrison Keillor

Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Virginia Madsen, Tommy Lee Jones, John C. Reilly, Lindsay Lohan, Lily Tomlin, Woody Harrelson, Garrison Keillor

prairie title.jpg

Closing Night. Lily Tomlin and Virginia Madsen were present for a Q&A after.

The movie was just plain fun, unencumbered by much of a story, and the blazing stars that Robert Altman brought along were sufficient to overshadow the sappy, stage hogging Garrison Keillor.

mrating * * * * *

The San Francisco International Film Festival has run its course. I volunteered at the festival and attended as many of the films as I could work in to my schedule. A Prairie Home Companion will be playing at a “theater near you” soon.

As a public service, I have posted brief reviews. My ratings are based on 5 stars ***** with a tilde ~ being half-a-star.

Happy viewing, or in any case, keep your eyes on rectorsite.com. There will be one more post to summarize the Festival.

The following from the SF Chronicle:

Closing on a high note — festival says bye, now with Altman’s ode to ‘Prairie Home Companion’
– Ruthe Stein, Saturday, May 6, 2006

“Prairie Home” companions: Lily Tomlin and Virginia Madsen met for the first time making “A Prairie Home Companion” in Minnesota. The two got to know each other very quickly on Robert Altman’s congenial set, where nobody got the star treatment and the whole cast stayed at the same hotel and ate dinner communally.

By closing night of the San Francisco International Film Festival on Thursday, the actresses seemed like old friends. They were spotted giggling together waiting to go onstage at the Castro to take questions after a well-received screening of their new movie, loosely based on Garrison Keillor’s homespun radio show. At times, Tomlin and Madsen spoke almost in unison, like the overlapping dialogue their director is famous for.

As a veteran of three other Altman films (“Short Cuts,” “The Player” and, most memorably, “Nashville”), Tomlin got at the heart of why every actor is dying to work with him. Altman quickly assuaged her anxiety at playing a singer in “Prairie Home Companion” when that’s not her forte.

“I took lessons for two months to get the harmony, but I was still nervous,” Tomlin told the sold-out crowd. “I said to Bob, ‘What if I get there and I can’t sing?’ He said, ‘So, you won’t sing.’ It was like when we made ‘Nashville,’ and I told him I didn’t think my character could go to bed with Keith Carradine’s, and Bob said, ‘Well, then, she just can’t do it.’ ”

Madsen felt the same support her first time working with Altman. “My experience has been with a lot of independent directors, some of them making a first film,” the star of “Sideways” told me later. “They’re still playing with the camera. But Bob has so much experience. He allows you to do what you want, but at the same time you know he’s watching your back.”

I wondered whether he and Keillor, who wrote the script and plays himself in the film, were ever at odds on how to make it.

“Not at all,” Tomlin said. “Garrison would always say, ‘It’s Mr. Altman’s movie.’ It was so cute the way they would call each other Mr. Keillor and Mr. Altman.” The two were so much of like mind that they’re already planning a sequel of sorts about Lake Wobegon, Keillor’s mythical Minnesota town, where, as he puts it on his show, “all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking and all the children are above average.”

After explaining to the audience that a possible sequel was the reason Lake Wobegon isn’t mentioned in “A Prairie Home Companion,” Tomlin looked momentarily concerned. She told me she was afraid she’d let the cat out of the bag “because who knows with Bob if his ideas are going to get made.”

As a mysterious figure who turns out to be a ghost, Madsen walks through “Prairie” in a white belted trench coat. She said the coat was Altman’s idea, and he had her try on a bunch of them in different colors before settling on white. By coincidence, Bebe, the specialty store chain that helped sponsor closing night, supplied Madsen with a white coat to wear. When she and her co-star emerged from a limo, Tomlin, who’s been coming to San Francisco since the 1970s when she headlined at the Boarding House, was greeted with cries of “We love you, Lily,” while several people in the crowd didn’t seem quite sure who Madsen was. That was some consolation for Tomlin, who had not been supplied with a wardrobe for the evening.

A very good year: Graham Leggat, the festival’s new executive director, and his hardworking staff had much to celebrate at the party afterward at Mezzanine in the trendy South of Market area. Attendance was up 15 to 18 percent over last year. The total number of festivalgoers reached 82,000, a marked improvement over the 73,000 who attended in 2004, but still not up to 2003’s high of 94,500. The number of sold-out screenings doubled from 2005.

Even better than these reassuring numbers, the spirit at the festival was the most upbeat in years.


2 thoughts on “SFiFF xiv: A Prairie Home Companion

  1. There were 2 parties at Mezzanine, a South of Market restaurant and dance club, but in two rooms; Regular Folks for $60 each, or the VIP room for $125 each. We skipped those.

    Sunday, there was a Volunteer Appreciation Party in the Palm Room at the Presidio for free—I went to that one. It featured a real nice Mexican buffet and goodie bags for all of the volunteers. The neatest thing about the goodie bags was the bag, which will be featured in an upcoming “bags” post.



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