The film features an ensemble cast including Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Tommy Lee Jones, Woody Harrelson, Lily Tomlin, Garrison Keillor, Virginia Madsen, John C. Reilly, and Lindsay Lohan.
A long-running live radio show is in danger of being canceled by new owners of the company that holds both radio station "WLT" and the theater where the show is broadcast. The film takes place on the night of the show's last performance. The show has two visitors: an angel calling herself Asphodel (Virginia Madsen) comes to comfort the people who work on the show and to escort one of them to the afterlife, while "the Axeman" (Tommy Lee Jones), a representative of the new owners, arrives to judge whether the show should be canceled. He makes it clear that the show is not what he considers modern popular programming, and though he too is escorted by the angel, the show is shut down anyway. In an epilogue at the end of the film the former cast members are reunited at Mickey's Diner. Their conversation pauses as they are joined by Asphodel.
A Prairie Home Companion opened the 2006 South by Southwest film festival on March 10, then premiered in St. Paul, on May 3, 2006, at the Fitzgerald Theater, which had projection and sound equipment brought in for that purpose. The film's stars arrived in ten horse-drawn carriages. Brian Williams of NBC Nightly News anchored his newscast from neighboring Minneapolis, Minnesota, that night so that he would be able to attend.
Critics' general reaction to the film was favorable, and it garnered an 81% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes. Roger Ebert awarded the film four out of four stars, saying, "What a lovely film this is, so gentle and whimsical, so simple and profound", and later added the film to his "Great Movies" list.
Michael Medved (himself a radio host) gave the film one and a half stars out of four, saying, "The entertainment value stands somewhere between thin and nonexistent" and "[it may be] the worst movie ever made that pooled the talents of four (count ‘em – four!) Oscar winners".
Desson Thomson from The Washington Post fell in between, saying in a review headlined "Honey, You Could Ask for More" (a reference to the theme song of the radio show and film) that while the movie had its strengths, it was weaker than it should have been.
Meryl Streep won the Best Supporting Actress Award from the National Society of Film Critics for her role; Altman was also posthumously nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for Best Director.
The film had a successful limited release in the United States and grossed $20,338,609 domestically and $25,978,442 worldwide.
New Line released a soundtrack album featuring a mixture of old time music classics and contemporary songs written by Keillor.
A Prairie Home Companion is the soundtrack the 2006 film A Prairie Home Companion. It was released on May 23, 2006 via New Line Records.
The DVD was released on October 10, 2006. Special features included deleted scenes, a behind-the-scenes documentary, and commentary by Altman and Kline. A Prairie Home Companion Original Motion Picture Soundtrack was released on May 23, 2006, by New Line.