Buckley never really cracks the case with the offstage Keillor, because Keillor seems to have specifically designed that case to be un-crackable, though she does manage to detect how his mood changes when he takes the stage for his weekly show. It’s something that Roger Angell, the legendary New Yorker scribe, who hired Keillor to work at the magazine in the 1970’s, also notes, saying “I don’t think he’s necessarily a happy man. But the time he is happy is when he is doing his monologue.” Monologues? You don’t say?
|Keillor in the midst of a monologue because of course he is.|
Now an astute viewer might note that GK is telling the origin of his radio broadcasting to people who have worked with him for years. How could that be?! But that’s a rush of insight into a character who has kept this origin story from them all these years and even as he’s finally recounting it is still going to great lengths to obfuscate it by going on and on and on. And he continues to go on and on and on, the whole movie, where the majority of his dialogue off the stage is monologues, telling things that have already happened rather than honing in on what’s going to happen and how he feels about and who in the world he is.
Other characters here pick up on this mask, like Yolanda (Meryl Streep), one half of a sister singing duo who used to romance the character of GK. When another performer on the show perishes and GK refuses to do a eulogy, she can hardly believe it, and says so. She says he’s afraid he’ll cry, though they both know that isn’t true – he won’t cry because he’s too inanimate, because he refuses to let anything in, to let anyone too close. He’s The Great Stone Face of Radio, and Keillor, by not really acting at all, probably because he can’t, plays straight to it.
That makes for a deft trick. If you write a character based on yourself it would suggest an opportunity to get to the bottom of one’s self. Not Keillor, who writes and plays a character that’s him while still keeping you from really ever pinning him down. It’s like double stuffed subterfuge. It’s the Garrison Keillor we’ve always known, who we’ve never known at all.