A Prairie Home Companion was a really pleasant surprise for me. You see, I grew up in the Midwest. I left the Midwest. And I just can't be ironic about it. Nor nostalgic. So I've never understood the appeal of Garrison Keillor's radio show -- never quite could get which of those two options it was supposed to be. And all that old-timey stuff -- the biscuit jingles etc-- is like an Antique Shoppe filled with collectible Norman Rockwell salt shakers. I understand that some people find it appealing or cute or possibly could camp it up so much as to be Pop Kitsch, but it just makes me want to run quickly in the opposite direction. So I was NOT planning on seeing Altman's latest, even though it was Altman. But my friend was visiting and really, really wanted to see it, and since I had sprained my ankle I felt bad that she was just sitting around and talking with me on the couch, so we went. And I thoroughly enjoyed it. Lily Tomlin and Meryl Streep were fabulous, John O'Reilly and Woody Harrelson too. Streep was perfect as Yolanda Johnson, half of a singing sister act -- she would draw you in, but then you'd see in the next moment how her weak boundaries between stage and life were clearly a problem for her depressed and sullen daughter (Lindsay Lohan) who resents her mother's vapid stubborness and performative charm. I surely overidentified with Lohan's character (having a theatrical mother myself), but I thought that their scenes were really well done.
The ending felt kind of tacked on, and the mumbled bit about Lohan's getting her mother to sign away her power of attorney seemed an unnecessary and overdone jab about the greedy younger generations -- especially after the daughter's performing on stage. I know it was probably meant as a contrasting flavor to lessen the sweetness, but it didn't seem at all consistent. Tommy Lee Jones as the representative of the evil corporation who's buying out the radio show folks was enough. Because the real battles in the film aren't with competitors, but with time itself, and death.
And then yesterday we went to see The Devil Wears Prada, in which Streep shines as Miranda Priestly, the Fashionable Boss from Hell. There's a scene late in the film where her assistant Andy comes upon her unexpectedly, wearing a bathrobe and without styled hair or any makeup on -- the entire audience gasped at the sight, so convincing was the character as someone who controls surfaces to her advantage. Although there's campy moments in the film (how could there not be), Streep doesn't just play it for drag -- there's pathos underneath.
And I love the casting of Anne Hathaway for the role of Andy, the heroine of the story (and no, I haven't read the book so I can't compare it) -- a wonderful intertextual move given her role in The Princess Diaries. Both stories are about fairy-tale transformations, from awkward ugly duckling into beautiful swan, complete with sympathetically embarassing mistakes, makeover scenes, and amazing dresses. Andy is told several times that "there are thousands of girls who would kill to have your job," in a media culture where Vogue is something like a royal family and many girls are willing to try on the glass slipper. Even if you don't follow fashion, you too are nonetheless pushed around by the Fashion Cartel, who decree which colors are in. A fairy tale for the postmodern age, the film lets us both indulge in fashionable fantasies even while Andy (and the film) thinks they're kind of silly, and have our morals satisfied, since Andy's makeover comes at a Faustian bargain price, and she eventually has to renounce it all to become Lois Lane. Yes, it's predictable, but it's a lot of fun.