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Prairie Home Companion


Everything looks better in a rear view mirror.
The faster we’re propelled forward, the more we yearn for the past. If nothing else, A Prairie Home Companion is part of a continuity that began in the early 1970s, when Baby Boomers looked back through their tears to the simpler days of their youth.
Frustrated and angry that they could not transform the present, they claimed the past in shows like Happy Days and Laverne and Shirley. Later Woodstock was eclipsed by the Wonder Years, a strangely revisionist narrative about how the sixties actually were the fifties in suburban America.
The Boomers still had ideas in the seventies and eighties, mind you. They just didn’t want to talk about them anymore. They wanted to escape back to greasy days at burger joints, American gas guzzlers, a world brought into focus by Sha Na Na.
What a collective nightmare to share with the rest of us. 
So here we have A Prairie Home Companion, a flawless Boomer artifact. The Baby Boom isn’t dying, friends, but it thinks it is, is absolutely obsessed with its mortality, and A Prairie Home Companion is drunk on nostalgia and finality.
Garrison Keillor, the genius of the Prairie Home Companion franchise, is one of those first brave Boomers who has tried out old age and he has something to say to the rest of us regarding the aging process:  “We don't look back in radio. We don't get old, and nobody dies.”
This would be less curious in a film about a contemporary radio program, a WKRP in Cincinnati for the millennium, say, but it strikes a false note when applied to the sappy drivel of A Home Prairie Companion. (This is, after all, a show the relishes the past, lives in a snow-globe world where, “the women are strong, the men are good looking, and all the children are above average.”)
A Prairie Home Companion is an oasis for Boomers, a way of avoiding discussions of the 1960s and, (worse still) the 1970s when hard compromises had to be made. This isn’t a particularly shocking suggestion, but what is odd is how death literally stalks through this film. 
We open on the last night’s performance of A Prairie Home Companion, an old-time variety show. The film follows the structure of all good Muppet movies. The theatre is threatened by vague capitalists who don’t cherish the time-honored tradition of the project, and decide to sell out for a buck.
Anyone who has ever listened to the radio show will feel at home with the skits, which feature characters from the popular NPR program. Mixing fiction with reality, the film includes invented personalities such as the P.I. Guy Noir (Kevin Kline) and Dusty and Lefty (Woody Harrelson and John C. Reilly) with Keillor and some of his real-life cast.
(Oddly missing are the self-absorbed ketchup-eating Baby Boomers who critique the generation on the on-air version of the show.)
Enter a strange woman in a white overcoat as the angel of death. The presence of such an overtly poetic figure short circuits what could have been a mostly bland mockumentary. It suggests a depth to this whole fiasco that the film is incapable of supporting and reveals the horrible truth… 
Baby Boomers have discovered death.
This is a crucial moment for every generation, like taking the training wheels off your bike. Boomers hid death away in a perpetual youth movement they could buy into, then in nostalgic poppycock, but it’s broken free. Their preoccupation with youth and melancholy has only been a taste: We’re now in for a 20-year diatribe about mortality.
There’s nothing worse than being self-absorbed about something that is self-negating.   
Prepare for Happy Days in the afterlife for the next several decades, friends. Maybe Baby Boomers will forget why they think they’re so special when they’re in their 80s.

 

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