In Derp Blog Into Darkness, I take a plunge into the deep with movies I’ve never seen or (in some cases) never even heard of, with the only common thread throughout being that they were purchased by my partner in the years after the break with her religious upbringing. This gives me a range from mainstream comfort food to more daring, “rebellious” stuff.
My first Robert Altman movie! Altman’s last Altman movie! I actually had no idea of this fact going in, which makes the experience of watching A PRAIRIE HOME COMPANION all the more bittersweet. Originally entitled “The Last Broadcast”, Altman’s star-studded final work tells the tale of a live country music radio show on its last legs. The film is bookended by the VO narration of security chief Guy Noir (Kevin Kline) in a just-over-the-top-enough hard-boiled gumshoe parody. Kline starts out talkin’ detective talk in a diner car at the start of a movie, and then goes to work as security guy at the old theater. The reveal that it’s actually 2006 and Kevin Kline is this weirdo Dashiell Hammett cosplayer for no reason immediately endeared me to the film. He has no detective plot and his VO happens maybe twice in the movie. He just is, okay? And shit, he wasn’t even my favorite guy in the movie. That’s a shared honor between cowpoke singin’ duo Dusty and Lefty (Woody Harrelson and John C. Reilly), two crooners with an obsession for dirty/lame jokes that had me cracking up in basically every one of their scenes. Rounding out the cast are Garrison Keillor as the ever befuddled MC of the show, and Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin and Lindsay Lohan* as two singing siblings and one’s daughter.
All of these storylines are good, gentle fun with the Dusty and Lefty one just barely bringing the movie a PG-13 rating, but if there was one I’d have excised it would have been Virginia Madsen’s “Dangerous Woman” who actually turns out to be the Angel of Death. It’s not really a spoiler, since this movie doesn’t really hinge on plot. You’re just hanging around a bunch of colorful characters during their last broadcast, and it’s a great fun 90 minutes. There’s a lot of talk of passin’ and movin’ on, to the extent that I think any reasonably intelligent person picks up on the bittersweet vibe the movie’s trying to convey. Madsen’s character, delivering platitudes on “the fullness of time and the spirit” and don’t take life for granted and blah dee blah, just feels extraneous. You really could have had the entire movie happen without her, and for The Angel of fucking Death to be able to be excised completely from the movie without consequence… well yeah, you can see how superfluous the storyline is.** But ultimately, it doesn’t detract from the overall experience too much, especially in light of the circumstances of the movie’s production.
Yeah, I realize I don’t have that much to say, but it’s just a good ass movie! Learning that Altman died in APHC’s year of release makes the film’s preoccupation with death extremely poignant. The fact that it’s still so light-hearted and fun to watch makes me tip my hat to this giant of American cinema. I really should get off my ass and watch some of his stuff. I guess I should start with POPEYE.
*She used to be in movies!
**Okay fine, you’d have to do some MINOR reshooting since she interacts with a few big characters, but still.