The exception is Madsen’s mysterious character, billed in the credits as the “dangerous woman.” Her slowly revealed identity allows her to speak more reverently about the spiritual. These assertions don’t stand up to close biblical scrutiny, but the underlying impulse often is admirable and produces several moving moments.

"A Prairie Home Companion" balances nostalgia with an inexorable sense of impending mortality for the beloved performers and for the show itself. Director Altman, now in his 80s and reportedly frail during filming, seems to acknowledge that it’s coming for him as well, and for audiences preferring character-driven dramas that don’t insult their intelligence.

If nothing else, "A Prairie Home Companion" reminds us that the hour is late, and films like this one far too few. It’s not anywhere close to perfect, but, like its radio counterpart, it has its pleasures.

AUDIENCE: Teens and up.

CAUTIONS:

  • Language/Profanity:  Lord’s name taken in vain; several profanities; the song “Bad Jokes” strings together a series of crude jokes; numerous double-entendres.
  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Guy Noir spikes his coffee, drinks from a flask and rolls cigarettes.
  • Sex/Nudity:  Two backstage performers carry on a sexual relationship. Guy Noir ogles a female character and describes, in revealing voiceover, her outfit and looks; a pregnant woman will soon be a single mom.
  • Violence:  A woman recounts a sudden, tragic death.
  • Suicide:  One character is obsessed with suicide.
  • Religion:  An angel speaks about the “fullness of time in the Spirit” and appears to several cast members, but her underlying theology is problematic; the Johnson sisters speak derisively of “Christian audiences” but also sing traditional hymns with conviction; a character jokes about how coffee is necessary to stay awake during a sermon.