Garrison Keillor’s voice is a national treasure. It is so warm, so magnetic, even hypnotic that it lulls you into a whole different dimension, an idealized past located somewhere between innocent nostalgia and ironic self-awareness, as though Norman Rockwell painted an episode of “Seinfeld.” His long-running radio program appeals to those who appreciate the authenticity of the roots music, performed with utter sincerity, and the slyly skewed humor that keeps it from getting sugary. He tells stories of Lake Woebegon (“Where the women are strong, the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average”) and has faux ads for products like Powdermilk Biscuits, which “give shy people the strength to get up and do what needs to be done.” Keillor may be the only one in history to keep happy both the sentimentalists who love Kinkade and the cynics who love po-mo happy, each thinking they’re the only ones who really get him.
The film describes the radio program as one that “died 50 years ago but someone forgot to tell them — until tonight.” Keillor is nostalgic, faux-nostalgic, and a commentator on nostalgia all at the same time.
Director Robert Altman is a perfect match for Keillor’s sensibility, and this intimate, backstage look at the radio program’s last broadcast mingles real (with some of Keillor’s regulars as themselves) with fiction (Kevin Kline as Keillor character Guy Noir, Meryl Streep and Lily Tomlin as singing sisters and Woody Harrelson and John C. Reilly as singing cowboys who love bad jokes — and of course the radio program is not on a commercial network and is not ending) and fantasy (Virginia Madsen as a mysterious and mysteriously powerful stranger). The narrative is more layered than the radio program and Altman’s understated documentary style never intrudes, but no fleshing out can possibly compare to the complexity and intimacy of a listener’s imagination.
Parents should know that the movie has some strong and crude language, some sexual references, sexual humor and sexual situations, reference to suicide, and deaths of characters (at least one sad).
Families who see this movie should talk about the enduring appeal of Keillor’s radio program. What can you tell about the relationship between Yolanda and Rhonda? Yolanda and GK? How does the relationship of Yolanda and Lola change and why?
Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy the beloved radio show. They will also enjoy some of Altman’s other ensemble movies like Nashville and Gosford Park. You can also sign up to get daily emails with Keillor’s Writer’s Alamanac, a daily poem and literary trivia segment broadcast on NPR.