A Prairie Home Companion (previously known as The Last Broadcast) is a 2006 ensemble comedy film 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 States and elsewhere. The film is a fictional representation of behind-the-scenes activities on a long-running radio show that has unexpectedly been cancelled.
- Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin, portraying Yolanda and Rhonda Johnson who hail from Oshkosh, Wisconsin, the last two of what was once a popular family country music act;
- Lindsay Lohan, as Yolanda's daughter, Lola, who writes poems about suicide;
- Woody Harrelson and John C. Reilly, as singing cowboys Dusty and Lefty, respectively;
- Tommy Lee Jones as the Axeman, a businessman from Texas who has come to shut down the show;
- Kevin Kline as Keillor's radio character Guy Noir, a film noir private eye repurposed as the program's security director;
- Virginia Madsen as the Dangerous Woman, "Asphodel," who may or may not be the Angel of Death;
- Tim Russell and Maya Rudolph, as the stage manager and his assistant;
- Singing duo Robin & Linda Williams as themselves;
- Tom Keith, as the sound effects man;
- Sue Scott, as the make-up artist.
Six of the stars (Garrison Keillor, Kevin Kline, Lily Tomlin, John C. Reilly, Virginia Madsen, and Woody Harrelson) as well as all the other members of the cast of the film (except Sue Scott and Lindsay Lohan) are midwesterners. Two (Tommy Lee Jones, Woody Harrelson) are from Texas, the state given rough treatment by the WLT cast and crew.
Because the Fitzgerald is a rather small building, other stage theaters in the Minneapolis-St. Paul 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 rooms 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 Diner, a landmark of downtown St. Paul, is also featured.
On November 1, 2005, the Star Tribune reported that an early screening in New York City for film distributors resulted in a heavy bidding war. Picturehouse bought the rights, and company President Bob Berney, "aiming to capitalise 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.
The general reaction to the film by critics has been favourable, as it has garnered an 80% "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."
It has 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.
The film had a successful limited release in the States and grossed $20,252,121.
- Altman was parodied on the radio program a few weeks before filming started in a Guy Noir skit on the June 4, 2005 edition of the show, recorded in Los Angeles. In it, he was portrayed as directing a film entitled People Standing Around Talking and Using Hand Gestures.
- Tom Waits and Lyle Lovett were originally slated to play Dusty and Lefty.
- On July 23, 2005, The New York Times reported that to receive insurance for the shoot, 80-year-old 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 incapacitation.
- APHC is the second major picture to be filmed in Minnesota in 2005. Northern parts of the state were abuzz a few months earlier when North Country, starring Charlize Theron and Woody Harrelson, was filmed there. Few movies had been made in Minnesota in recent years, leading many to believe that the Minnesota Film and TV Board — intended to promote the state as a filming destination — had disbanded. It still exists, though the board is "restructuring" as of July 2005.
- APHC was the opening movie for the 2006 South by Southwest film festival on March 10.
- The call letters of the radio station where the show aired, WLT ("With Lettuce and Tomatoes"), were used previously by Keillor in his novel WLT: A Radio Romance, and the station's owners, the Soderbergh brothers, are referred to in the dialogue.
- This was Robert Altman's last film.
- A Prairie Home Companion Official Movie Site
- Fitzgerald Theater: Tracking the Prairie Home Companion Movie
- A Prarie Home Companion at the Internet Movie Database
- A Prairie Home Companion at Rotten Tomatoes
- June 2005 press release about the film from American Public Media
- Guy Noir script for June 4, 2005, including the Altman parody