' Cinema Romantico: Forgotten Character: Molly, A Prairie Home Companion

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Forgotten Character: Molly, A Prairie Home Companion

My friend Andrew has an ongoing series he calls Forgotten Characters, which, just as the title implies, pays homage to film characters that are generally forgotten, mysteriously passing by unknown to most. Today I pay homage to/rip off his creation.

Maya Rudolph in A Prairie Home Companion
as Molly

Robert Altman's 2006 stone cold classic "A Prairie Home Companion" is stacked to the rafters of St. Paul's Fitzgerald Theater (where essentially the entire film is set) with ingenious actors. Kevin Kline is easygoingly hilarious and John C. Reilly and Woody Harrelson develop a fine rapport that feels properly worn in and Lily Tomlin is wondrously acerbic and Meryl Streep blasts yet another titanic home run and Tommy Lee Jones is solidly gruff years before the GG's and Virginia Madsen truly conveys a neurotic yet poetic celestial bliss and Garrison Keillor is, well, Garrison Keillor and Lindsay Lohan, believe it or not, is a righteous youthful foil to the gaggle of adults.

Maneuvering amidst the ceaseless shenanigans of the film is a pregnant (for realsies) Maya Rudolph as Molly, functioning as an assistant stage manager and, more or less, the personal wrangler of Garrison Keillor. We first see her less than 10 minutes into the film. She strides into Garrison Keillor's dressing room to summon him to the stage since the radio show around which the film is based is set to start in, like, five minutes. Garrison is, as Garrison often is, in the middle of some "is-this-ever-going-to-end?" story about a pontoon boat (sorta). Rudolph's face as she enters is monumental. Chewing gum, we immediately can tell that she can tell, "Oh God, he's in the middle of one of his 'is-this-ever-going-to-end?' stories." Displaying an impatient patience she waits until he hits the end of a sentence and then interjects: "Mr. Keillor. We need you onstage."

The movie briefly moves on to a few other characters and then returns to Keillor's dressing room where he is still telling the same "is-this-ever-going-to-end?" story. But now Reilly and Harrelson’s singing cowboys, Dusty and Lefty, are adding to the story with their own flights of fancy. The camera finds Rudolph, standing in the exact same spot we last saw her, furiously chewing that gum. She looks down, breathes in deeply - she's pregnant and she's trying to get this storytelling dufus to the stage - and looks back up, wanting to interject but cut off at the pass. The camera focuses on Keillor droning on and then re-finds Rudolph and she looks down again and wipes at her nose......you can literally see her inwardly coming unglued and outwardly maintaining the false brave face. That is Rudolph’s go-to expression throughout, and understandably so.

Her character is so often placed on the edge of loaded-up frames (so many characters), standing silently, chewing that gum, holding that clipboard, trying to navigate this backstage sea of eccentric and distracted talents, a preschool teacher desperately hoping she can get her overgrown kids to hit their marks on time.

Molly’s one real moment in the spotlight is the one that both does not work for me at all and works like gangbusters. In the midst of the show Molly approaches Keillor at his stage pulpit with a stack of folders – show notes, we presume – and then cannot find the one she requires and rifles through them and drops them and so on and so forth and hardy har. Her antics are meant to be funny on their own, sure, and they are also meant as set-up for the show’s sound effects specialist, the late Tom Keith, to work his magic, yes, but it is also a flub I doubt this thick-skinned Molly would ever make. It kinda makes her the butt of the joke and that’s unfair, and it’s unfair because this scene also works to show how you never notice the behind-the-scenes folks making the engine run until there is a mishap. Ah, and so it is.

Her final sequence involves Kline’s security guard asking for her assistance in removing Jones’ Axeman – there to bring close the curtain on the show forevermore – from the premises and/or equation. He asks her to a deliver note to another character in a plea for assistance and off Molly goes. That is the last time we see her. The note, presumably, gets delivered because the required assistance arrives, but we never actually see the delivery made. This, especially in conjunction with the previously mentioned scene, seems spectacularly right. We notice her when something goes wrong, we don’t even see her when things go right.

In the moment before she is tasked to deliver the message Kline pops a bottle of bubbly and pours a glass for himself and her. So what if she’s pregnant? One glass is okay, and for but a brief second she removes her gum and downs that champagne in one shot. Well, movie characters are always drinking champagne, from Rick & Ilsa to that Sausalito front woman that sleeps with Bob Harris. But none of them have deserved their champagne more than Molly.


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