Almost Famous is a love story, pure and simple. However, it's not a story about two people in love, though it does have that, and it's not a story about how being in love with being famous, though you might infer that from the title. No, this movie is about people in love with music. Music is really the main character and every other character is head over heels for her.
William Miller, played by newcomer Patrick Fugit, has a problem. Rolling Stone magazine has just asked him to write an in-depth piece on up-and-coming rock band Stillwater. He is to travel with them on their 1973 tour, interviewing the bandmembers and reporting on events from the road. The problem? He's only fifteen. William is already in love with music, a gift from his rebellious sister. As he gets to know the band, he begins to fall in love with them too, especially a groupie (or Band-Aide, as she prefers to be called) named Penny Lane. Penny is in love with music, too. Unfortunately, she's also in love with Russell, the guitar player. Russell loves music, Penny, the other members of the band (as we find out in one harrowing, yet hilarious scene), and William. What follows are the semi-autobiographical adventures of director Cameron Crowe, himself a teen stringer for Rolling Stone in the early 70s. Almost Famous, like its main character, is funny, sweet, and incredibly likeable. The acting and the writing are terrific, as is the photography. Nearly every time the band is on screen, there's a potential album cover.
Posing in front of the Stillwater tour bus are Dick Roswell (Noah Taylor), William Miller (Patrick Fugit), Penny Lane (Kate Hudson), Russell Hammond (Billy Crudup), Sapphire (Fairuza Balk), Jeff Bebe (Jason Lee), Polexia (Anna Paquin), Larry Fellows (Mark Kozelek), Beth (Olivia Rosewood) and Ed Vallencourt (John Fedevich) in Dreamworks' Almost Famous - 2000
Patrick Fugit is excellent as William. His wide-eyed innocence provides much of the comedy, but also holds the movie together. Just the look in his eyes was enough to communicate a thousand lines of dialogue. This is a big role for an unknown actor to handle, but he does it well. At one point, Russell exclaims that, "He's taking notes with his eyes!" I don't doubt that he was, in more ways than one. The rest of the cast is amazing, and if Fugit is smart, he was paying attention. Frances McDormand (Fargo, Raising Arizona) is great as William's mother, the conscience of the film, and Billy Crudup is perfect as Russell, the conflicted leader of the band. Throw in Cameron Crowe to direct and write and you just about can't miss. This movie, like Crowe's other films Jerry Maguire and Say Anything, is hard to characterize. It's very funny, but I wouldn't call it a comedy, and it's quite moving and dramatic, but I wouldn't call it a drama. Like the other two Crowe films, it is definitely a romance, but with more than enough other stuff thrown in to keep anyone from calling it "chick flick".
It is the other "stuff" that makes the movie so much fun to watch. From William's mother's frantic calls to Russell declaring that he doesn't want to have anything to do with anything that's not "real" and and then leaping off of a fan's roof into a pool screaming "I am a Golden God!" Famous is full of scenes that are both funny and memorable, touching and sad. What it is not full of is cliches. Too often when you see movies about the 70s, it's all bell bottoms, stoned groovers, and disco balls. This movie has some of that, but as it probably really was, not as simply a punchline. These are real people, and Crowe is able to bring that through superbly in the writing as well as in the direction. I looked for, but couldn't really find a "show me the money" catchphrase in this movie, but that's a good thing. The pieces of this movie are good, but put them all together and you get something great.
Lester Bangs warns young William that rock 'n roll is dying, that promotion and money are going to strangle the life out of it until all that would be left would be an industry of cool. "They'll destroy rock 'n' roll and everything we love about it!" he declares. After watching the movie I thought about the music scene of today and I wonder if he wasn't right. Almost Famous is definitely worth seeing. If not for the comedy-drama-romance, then for the music and for the kind of passion for it that we rarely see anymore. Almost Famous is everything I love about movies. Grade: A
Almost Famous is rated R for language, brief nudity, and drug use.
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