Almost Famous (2000)

Almost Famous (2000)
  • Time: 122 min
  • Genre: Drama | Music | Romance
  • Director: Cameron Crowe
  • Cast: Patrick Fugit, Kate Hudson, Billy Crudup, Frances McDormand, Philip Seymour Hoffman


William Miller is a 15-year-old kid hired by Rolling Stone magazine to tour with and write about Stillwater, an up and coming rock band. This wonderfully witty coming-of-age film follows William as he falls face first to confront life, love, and lingo.

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  • Among the many beautiful moments that congeal to create Cameron Crowe’s semi-autobiographical Almost Famous, there is this one: aboard the tour bus christened Doris, the members of the rock band Stillwater are locked in a hostile silence set into motion by lead singer Jeff Bebe (Jason Lee), who feels his lead guitarist’s good looks and undeniable charisma have overshadowed the band and pushed him out of the spotlight. Lead guitarist Russell Hammond (Billy Crudup), recovering from an acid trip that had him shouting “I am a golden god!” from a fan’s rooftop, feels he’s beyond the band but doesn’t leave because he doesn’t want to abandon his bandmates. As the bus wheels on, Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” comes on the radio. Within seconds, a few heads begin to bob along with the music. Several more seconds pass and one by one they begin to sing along. Caught in the rapture, moved by the music. As Madonna sings on the title track of her new CD, “Music makes the people come together…”

    The essence of Stillwater, a band on the verge of shedding its opening act status, and its enigmatic lead guitarist is what 15-year old Billy Miller (newcomer Patrick Fugit) tries to capture for his assignment for Rolling Stone. Yes, Billy Miller is 15, away from home for the first time and hoping to wrap up the story in time to make his graduation. No, the editors of Rolling Stone don’t know that the marvelous writer they have hired to pen a potential cover story is all of 15. Nor do they realize that Billy is slowly losing his objectivity as he forms attachments with the people on the road, namely Russell and Penny Lane (Kate Hudson), ringleader of the Band-Aids – “We are not groupies,” she corrects Billy, “We’re here because of the music. We inspire the music.”

    Billy realizes he is breaking the cardinal rule set forth by his mentor, the infamous rock critic Lester Bangs (a superb Philip Seymour Hoffman): “You cannot make friends with the rock stars. These people are not your friends.” Though Russell knows Billy is a reporter along for the ride – “I am telling secrets to the one guy I shouldn’t be telling secrets to.” – he’s won over by the lad’s unabashed passion for the music and wide-eyed innocence. Jeff Bebe isn’t quite so trusting: “The little shit looks harmless, but he does represent the magazine that trashed ‘Layla,’ broke up Cream and ripped every album Led Zeppelin ever made.”

    Crowe’s film is about more than just an insider’s view of life on the road, it also focuses on the triangle that develops between Billy, Penny and Russell. Improbably, and yet convincingly, Billy’s love for Penny fully blossoms as he watches his beloved get her stomach pumped. Up until then, he has observed Russell and Penny’s doomed affair, played out in surreptitiously exchanged glances. The flirtatious glances are soon imperiled by the presence of Russell’s wife. It’s a terrific scene – Penny, having already been spurned by Russell when he thoughtlessly traded her away in a poker game for a pack of beer, trying to catch Russell’s eye. When their eyes do connect, it is with a tender regard but when his wife realizes Penny may be more than a pretty stranger, Russell makes a point of avoiding Penny’s now helpless “I don’t understand” stare.

    Hudson also comes through big time when Penny learns from Billy that Russell lost her in a poker game. She tears up, looks away, takes a breath to regain her composure, and tries to keep her sunshine state going. But it’s cracking despite her attempt to joke the situation away: “What kind of beer?”

    Some may feel Crowe has cast a nostalgic light instead of showing the sex and the drugs that were so integral a part of the rock and roll scene. That’s not what Crowe is striving for – he recreates the environment and because of the personal nature of the story, what he puts onscreen is the emotional authenticity of the time. He’s perceptive but not cruel – he showers compassion on his characters’ foibles but doesn’t hide their flaws. “Make your reputation on being honest and unmerciful,” Bangs counsels Billy. Crowe understands that being unmerciful does not mean being ruthless – it means presenting people as they are and appreciating how they are.

    With his faultless ear for dialogue, dead-on use of music and ability to take actors to depths they never thought they could reach, and above all, his undying love for music and its powers to bring people together, Crowe makes Almost Famous a must-see not just for every music fan but also for anyone who has ever called themselves a moviegoer.

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