A charming, pseudo-fantastical nostalgia for the past is the life force of Robert Altman's delightful A Prairie Home Companion
, the fictitious account of the final performance of Garrison Keillor's long-running NPR variety radio program. Recollecting better days and old friends whilst also striving for the future, and, at times, mourning the losses of the present, the program's cast encapsulates the many ranging feelings and emotions that naturally arise from the end of one era of life and the beginning of another. Some elements of the show, such as the radio persona Guy Noir, aren't effectively contextualized for the unfamiliar viewer, but quickly become absorbed into the whole of the proceedings nonetheless. The overall buoyant nature of the film, reinforced by the show's musical-comedy slant, might make it appear somewhat slight at first, and while this is certainly no Nashville
or Short Cuts
, the whimsical delicacy of the film strikes a deeply emotional nerve that bears no embarrassment towards sporting genuine human feeling. As is expected of any Altman film, the ensemble cast is universally excellent (including Lindsay Lohan, proving beyond a doubt that, despite her tween appeal, she is one of today's most gifted young actresses), walking the fine line of serious affection and, when the script lends itself to some moderate genre cheekiness, restrained self-awareness. Virginia Madsen plays a sort of guardian angel of death (who's death as a human is humorously linked to the radio program) who reveals herself only to certain people at certain times; her spiritual relationship suggests a divine connection between the memories of the past and their resonance in the present. With old age and a recently revealed heart transplant surely heavy on Altman's mind, A Prairie Home Companion
's sense of mortality represents the fragility of life's beauty at its most sincere.