Review: “Almost Famous”

April 6, 2010

Ever since his directorial debut, 1989’s Say Anything…, Cameron Crowe has established himself a solid filmmaker with a reputation for blending sincere humor, heartfelt dramatics and storylines that draw the audience in with every scene.  Movies like 1996’s Jerry Maguire weave an emotional web of compelling characters and complex themes, while others like 2005’s Elizabethtown tackle heavier elements like the death of a family member.  His consistency of delivering some of the best films one is likely to see will hopefully continue for many years to come, and it’s refreshing to know that these treasures will remain a part of our collective consciousness long after he throws in the proverbial towel.

Keeping with the theme of consistency, another common thread throughout Crowe’s films would easily have to be the unbelievable soundtrack that accompanies each and every moment, whether it’s the Seattle grunge of 1992’s Singles, or the atmospheric art rock of 2001’s Vanilla Sky.  Furthermore, it’d be hard to picture any other song erupting from John Cusack’s boombox during Say Anything… than Peter Gabriel’s, “In Your Eyes.  “

It is with these images that I invite you, if you haven’t already, to take in a film called Almost Famous.  Released in the fall of 2000, Crowe brings us into a semi-autobiographical journey alongside a fictional rock band, introducing us to a world of sex, drugs, music, and an ever-changing tapestry of relationships.

Set during the early 1970s, Patrick Fugit stars as William Miller, a fifteen-year old outcast who frequently diverts his attention from the accelerated classes his mother (Frances McDormand) has laid out for him towards music-specifically, music journalism, a path which has taken bands like The Who, The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan to William’s ears.  After an encouraging meeting with legendary rock writer Lester Bangs (played brilliantly by Philip Seymour Hoffman), William eventually finds himself backstage at an actual concert, expecting to interview Black Sabbath but instead rubbing shoulders with Stillwater, an up-and-coming opening band that features Russell Hammond (Billy Crudup) on guitar and Jeff Beebe (Jason Lee) on vocals.  It is here that William also meets Penny Lane (Kate Hudson), a, “Band-Aid, “ who considers herself less a groupie and more a admirer of the bands she looks up to, especially Stillwater, who’s guitarist Russell shares mutual feelings towards Penny.

From this point, Crowe takes the audience on a wild and, oftentimes, unexpected ride that thrusts William into the heart of Stillwater, where he discovers sides of himself he never knew existed all while witnessing the genesis of a great band.  All the while, Penny and Russell’s relationship experiences similar up-and-down moments, as William watches from the sidelines, harboring feelings of his own for Penny.  The movie picks up speed when William hits the road with Stillwater, charged by Rolling Stone magazine with writing a story about the band-a change that the band members tentatively accept due to their fears of how they’ll be portrayed and the sensitive, band-only information William will now be privy to.

Believe it or not, this is only the beginning.  What Cameron Crowe has created with Almost Famous is, quite simply, the finest movie one will ever see about the world of rock music.  Every little detail, every piece of fashion, every word that comes out of the character’s mouths-it’s all done to a, “T.  “  The characters themselves, from the off-beat humor of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Lester Bangs, to Jason Lee’s typical rock star Jeff Beebe, even to Noah Taylor’s band manager Dick, are all richly defined and drawn.  Kate Hudson’s Penny Lane, in particular, is nothing less than a sheer juggernaut of a performance, one of the most original characters one is likely to witness on film.  Watching her in Almost Famous, you can easily see her career beginning from the moment she appears onscreen.

But let’s be honest-putting aside all the characterizations and melodrama, this is a movie about music and the life of a touring musician, and were one to strip this film down to the music alone, it would still succeed admirably.  The numerous scenes of Stillwater onstage are convincingly filmed, thanks in no small part to Lee and Crudup’s performances.  Seeing Russell nearly electrocuted onstage, or the band argue over a shoddy t-shirt design, or the many endless drives in their rusty tour bus-all come together to create a vast palate from which the story draws its heart and energy.  And yes, the drug use, while not as rampant throughout the film as one might expect, still shows up, particularly during a scene at a house party in which Russell indulges in some acid, and utters the film’s most famous line.

And yes, the soundtrack, which features choice cuts from Led Zeppelin, The Allman Brothers Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd and even Stillwater themselves, is another home run for Crowe.

To call Almost Famous merely a film would be detrimental to all it has to offer.  It’s moviemaking at its finest, a film that somehow managed to elevate itself into a higher level previously reserved for works of art that encapsulate every emotion, every feeling, every sensation one gets from listening to their favorite song.  Without a doubt, this is unquestionably one of the best movies I’ve ever seen.

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One Response to “Review: “Almost Famous””

  1. Kathy Farvour Says:

    Look how cute Kate Hudson is in that picture you used. : ) Great review, honey!


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