Sunday, 3 February 2008

Film Review: A Prairie Home Companion (DVD)

A Prairie Home Companion is a film I decided to see on the strength of its inclusion in Empire magazine's Top 25 Films Of 2007, a list I've mentioned in the past, and its impressive cast list. A film featuring Woody Harrelson, John C. Reilly, Kevin Kline, Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin and Tommy Lee Jones (oh, and Lindsay Lohan) has to be worth seeing.

It is the cast which proves by far the strongest point in this film, being as it is incredibly strong, with many excellent performances which can't really be faulted. Everyone you'd expect to be brilliant is, and Lindsay Lohan puts in a commendably strong performance too. Meryl Streep deserves a special mention as the aging singer, formerly part of a singing family troop, now left verging on senility with just her sister (Tomlin) and her daughter (Lohan), who for the most part shows contempt for her. Kevin Kline is also particularly notable as private-eye-cum-security-guard Guy Noir, putting in a fantastic comedy turn and providing some of the best moments in the film. Tommy Lee Jones as "The Axeman" is also excellent and needed a lot more time in the film, as his appearance is disappointingly limited.

The film itself is a fairly mixed affair, with some excellent parts and some average ones too. There is not a lot of plot, with the film largely progressing as a variety show being recorded with the different acts coming and going. What plot there is feels somewhat unfocused, and left me unsure at times of what I needed to be concentrating on. On reflection, I feel that I might have got a bit more out of the film if I was familiar with the real radio show which the film is based around. Some of the material performed in the show in the film is marvellous (the Bad Jokes song by Woody Harrelson and John C. Reilly's singing cowboys is just excellent, and a highlight of the film), but at times I wasn't totally sure of the significance of some of the acts I was being shown.

The woman in the white trenchcoat, later revealed to be called Asphodel and played by Virginia Madsen, is an intriguing element of the film. Her presence during the first half of the film adds intrigue and gives the plot some focus. However, as her significance becomes clearer (or less clear as the case may be) this changes. By the end of the film, I wasn't entirely convinced of what she added to the film or why she had been included. Without giving too much away, what she represents is a good idea that is generally well executed, but when viewed within the context of the film as a whole there are many things about Asphodel that don't sit right overall.

Verdict: A Prairie Home Companion is a film that feels as though its makers have relied too heavily on a strong cast to carry it. Whilst it generally holds together well and has some excellent memorable moments, other parts feel too confused or underdeveloped. The entire film is lacking somewhat in both focus and pace. Maybe if I was familiar with the actual radio show (something that I didn't know existed until after seeing the film) that might strengthen some of the weaknesses. Worth seeing for the brilliant cast who collectively don't put a foot wrong, but mostly feels like it could have been a bit better than it is. 7/10

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