Review No. 452
Not “Almost” perfect, but highly recommended.
Directed by: Cameron Crowe
Written by: Cameron Crowe
William Miller: Patrick Fugit
Russell Hammond: Billy Crudup
Penny Lane: Kate Hudson
Elaine Miller: Frances McDormand
Jeff Bebe: Jason Lee
Lester Bangs: Philip Seymour Hoffman
Sapphire: Fairuza Balk
Polexia Aphrodisia: Anna Paquin
Dick Roswell: Noah Taylor
Anita Miller: Zooey Deschanel
Also Starring: Eric Stonestreet, Jay Baruchel, Jimmy Fallon, John Fedevich, Liz Stauber, Mark Kozelek, Rainn Wilson
Distributed by DreamWorks Pictures on September 15, 2000. Produced in English by the United States. Runs 122 mins. Rated R by the MPAA–mature themes, profanity, drug content, brief nudity.
Almost Famous was watched on March 23, 2013.
As soon as she has the opportunity, a rebellious teenager (Zooey Deschanel) flees the life she knew, hindered by her possessive mother’s condemnation of rock ‘n’ roll music. She never had a dream other than music, but she never pursued that dream, either, so she goes off to become a stewardess. And she leaves her LP collection behind to her then-eleven-year-old brother William (Patrick Fugit), noting to him that if he listens to The Who’s Tommy with a candle burning, his entire future will flash before his eyes. It goes without saying that the lead ties back later, and the deus ex machina “candle” moment (although cheesy) foreshadows a fantasy on the horizon.
It’s not his entire future, per se, that flashes before his eyes, but the most significant portion—the 1973, fifteen-year-old him. Because of his bitchy helicopter mother (Frances McDormand), our hero is lucky to have any knowledge about rock ‘n’ roll, with which he is endlessly fascinated, when he meets a well-known music critic (Philip Seymour Hoffman), befriends a groupie known as “Penny Lane” (Kate Hudson), and attempts to connect an up-and-coming band known as Stillwater with Rolling Stone magazine. All this time, William is trying to find where all the glamour is in rock ‘n’ roll, as he journals about Stillwater for his article.
Almost Famous is a movie you’ve seen before but you also haven’t. You wouldn’t generally think of a comical period piece as an underdog movie, but this one is, first and foremost. The hero uses music to escape his overprotective mother and boring life. Once he pursues his dream, the first thing he hears is that rock ‘n’ roll is dying, followed by a plethora of telephone calls from his mother.
Almost Famous isn’t necessarily for those who grew up in the era or even know it well. It’s just for people like you and me and William’s sister. Note that she became a stewardess. Nothing big, just an ordinary person who loved rock ‘n’ roll and needed some money to pay the bills. The film does well presenting the era for the music that we take away from it, not for anything else. Although it does lose a good amount of atmosphere due to this, Almost Famous stands and delivers accessible characters rather than an all-star cast in hippie attire.
I didn’t expect much of Almost Famous. The movie is a comedy-drama written, produced, and directed by Cameron Crowe. His previous film was Jerry Maguire, which told a story about a football team manager–rather than a quarterback–whose arrogance plagued both his work and love life. I enjoyed the movie, but with a premise so new, it could have been far less formulaic.
Almost Famous is barely different, story wise, but much more commendable. The title includes “almost” because it’s about a journalist, not a music group. A journalist has to work as hard as a music group to rise to fame, but it’s the band that actually reaches fame. It works this way in just about every industry (when you hear the name Roger Moore, do you think of James Bond or a film critic?), and Almost Famous presented it nicely on behalf of the music industry.