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A Prairie Home Companion is a 2006 ensemble comedy elegy directed by Robert Altman, his final film released just five months before his death. It is based on A Prairie Home Companion, a program broadcast on public radio stations in the United Statesmarker and elsewhere. The film is a fictional representation of behind-the-scenes activities on a long-running radio show of the same name.


A long-running live radio show is in danger of being canceled by new owners of the company that owns both the radio station and the theater from which the show is broadcast. The film takes place on their last night's performance, accompanied by two visitors. An angel (Virgin Madsen) calling herself Asphodel comes to comfort the people that work on this show and to escort one of the performers to the afterlife, while a representative of the new owners ("the Axeman," played by Tommy Lee Jones) arrives to judge whether the show should be canceled. He makes it clear that it is not what he considers modern popular programming, and though he too is escorted by the angel, the show is shut down anyway. In an epilogue at the end of the film the former cast members are re-united at a diner. Their conversation pauses as they are joined by Asphodel.


Five of the stars (Garrison Keillor, Kevin Kline, Lily Tomlin, John C. Reilly, Virginia Madsen) as well as all the other members of the cast of the film (except Sue Scott, Meryl Streep and Lindsay Lohan) are midwesterners. Three (Tommy Lee Jones, Woody Harrelson and L. Q. Jones) are from Texas, the state given rough treatment by the WLT cast and crew.

Production notes

To receive insurance for the shoot, Robert Altman had to hire Paul Thomas Anderson as a "backup" director to observe filming at all times and be prepared to take over for Altman in case of his incapacity.. Principal photography for the film began on June 29, 2005 at the Fitzgerald Theatermarker in Saint Paul, Minnesotamarker (the usual venue for the radio show). Filming ended on July 28, 2005. The film was the second major picture (after North Country, starring Charlize Theron and Harrelson) to be filmed in Minnesotamarker in 2005.

Because the Fitzgerald is a rather small building, other stage theater in the Minneapolis-St. Paulmarker region had been considered as stand-ins. With some effort, the necessary film equipment was crammed into the structure. The basement was also used for sets due to lack of space. Set design also had to make the show more visually interesting, and fake dressing room were used in the film (the movie's production designer noted that Keillor's actual dressing room is "about the size of a very, very small bathroom"). Mickey's Dinermarker, a landmark of downtown St. Paul, is also featured.

On November 1, 2005, the Star Tribune reported that an early screening in New York Citymarker for film distributors resulted in a heavy bidding war. Picturehouse bought the rights, and company President Bob Berney, "aiming to capitalize on the name recognition of the 31-year-old radio program, recommended that the title revert to A Prairie Home Companion. 'At the screening, Garrison said that to broaden the film's appeal, they were thinking about changing the name to Savage Love, so we may have an argument there,' Berney said." The main potential audience for the film is people familiar with the radio program.



A Prairie Home Companion opened the 2006 South by Southwest film festival on March 10, then premiered in St. Paul, Minnesotamarker on May 3, 2006 at the Fitzgerald Theatermarker, which had projection and sound equipment specially brought in for that purpose. The film's stars arrived in ten horse-drawn carriages. Brian Williams of the NBC Nightly News anchored his newscast from neighboring Minneapolismarker that night so that he would be able to attend.

The general reaction to the film by critics was favorable, as it garnered an 81% "fresh" rating at Rotten Tomatoes, a site that tallies prominent reviews. Roger Ebert awarded the film four out of four stars, saying, "What a lovely film this is, so gentle and whimsical, so simple and profound.", and later added the film to his "Great Movies" list.

It had its detractors, however. Film critic Michael Medved gave the film one and a half stars (out of four) saying, "The entertainment value stands somewhere between thin and non-existent" and, "[it may be] the worst movie ever made that pooled the talents of four (count ‘em - four!) Oscar winners"

Desson Thomson from The Washington Post came between the two, saying that while the movie had its strengths, it was weaker than it should have been, in a review headlined "Honey, You Could Ask For More" (a reference to the opening theme song of the radio show and film).


Meryl Streep won the Best Supporting Actress Award from the National Society of Film Critics for her role in this and The Devil Wears Prada; Altman was also posthumously nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for Best Director.

Box office

The film had a successful limited release in the States and grossed $20,338,609 domestically, with $25,978,442 being the worldwide gross.

Home media

The DVD was released October 10, 2006.

Special features


A Prairie Home Companion Original Motion Picture Soundtrack was released on May 23, 2006 by New Line.


External links

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