Like the Grand Ole Opry plopped into a fragrant barn at the county fair, Garrison Keillor's radio program befits its roots in frosty Minnesota soil through its worldview, Buddhist by way of Scandinavia: Life is about suffering. Robert Altman's A Prairie Home Companion is something of a different story, even though Keillor wrote it. What the maker of Nashville sees in the show, predictably, is not a self-made bandleader and oddball raconteur so much as another democratic ensemble of musicians and assorted stagehands who come together in the service of maintaining their insular artists' colony in an inhospitable climate. The flimsiness of the film's characters -- including a sibling duo of fair-circuit singers (Lily Tomlin, Meryl Streep) and a pair of bad-joke-cracking cowboy crooners (Woody Harrelson, John C. Reilly) -- actually ends up adding to its charm: These aren't really Midwestern radio performers so much as movie stars who've signed up for one more improv party with Altman, who, at 81, delivers his warmest and most humanistic work by a wide margin.
Robert AltmanWoody Harrelson, Tommy Lee Jones, Garrison Keillor, Kevin Kline, Lindsay Lohan, Virginia Madsen, John C. Reilly, Maya Rudolph, Meryl Streep, Lily TomlinGarrison KeillorRobert Altman, Wren Arthur, Joshua Astrachan, Tony Judge, David LevyPicturehouse