Review: Almost Famous
Director: Cameron Crowe
Written By: Cameron Crowe
Release Date: September 13, 2000
Review by: Shane Roberts
Cameron Crowe’s follow-up to Say Anything... and Jerry Maguire is an autobiographical, fictionalized account of his days as a rock journalist, when he toured with bands such as Led Zeppelin and The Allman Brothers. It’s a feel good film of the highest order, filled with genuine love of the rock medium, and it’s the best kind of coming of age movie, the kind where someone actually comes of age and learns something in the process.
William Miller (Patrick Fugit) is the stand-in of Crowe himself. When his sister (Zooey Deschanel) leaves home, he inherits her old rock records, and pushes aside his mother’s (Frances McDormand) wishes to become a lawyer, instead pursuing his passion of rock journalism. William gets an assignment from successful rock journalist Lester Bangs (Philip Seymour Hoffman), and, via his genuine love of rock, manages to get backstage with fictional band Stillwater, meeting love interest Penny Lane (Kate Hudson) in the process. These events result in William touring with the band and Penny, hired by Rolling Stone to do a story about Stillwater. What follows is an account of the tour itself, the love triangle between William, Penny, and Stillwater’s guitarist Russell Hammond (Billy Crudup), and William’s frustrated efforts to get a private interview with Russell.
If you can’t tell from that summary, this is the definition of an all-star cast, and there are plenty more where those came from. Performances are pitch perfect across the board. You’ll fall in love with Penny and her glasses faster than William does, it goes without saying that Hoffman is brilliant, and you’d never know that this was Fugit’s debut role in a major motion picture. It’s particularly interesting to watch Jason Lee play the same character here once again, since his schtick is perfect for the band’s lead singer Jeff Bebe. The deftness with which Crowe handles William’s mother also has to be mentioned. Most movie Moms are written so loathsomely that you want some horrible accident to befall them within minutes of their screen time, but McDormand’s character is someone you can understand and empathize with, and her relationship with William is real and complex. She shouldn’t be an antagonist, and she’s not. While the groupies (excuse me, Band-Aids) actresses all give excellent performances, it’s a shame that they aren’t more fleshed out on an individual basis. After seeing this movie multiple times, Penny’s three accomplices still blend together for me.
It’s the lack of fleshing out that is one of the few chinks is Almost Famous’ armor. For a movie inspired by sex and drugs and rock n’ roll, there’s not enough of any of the three here. William’s deflowering is handled particularly well, but aside from that the movie could stand to be a lot more sexy. Drug scenes are more comedic than anything else, and the moments where you actually see Stillwater perform are brief and feel obligatory. In general, the movie feels like it just meanders too long in basic exposition without diving deep enough into the hearts and minds of its characters. Almost Famous is feel good all the way through, it’s never dark, and there’s just not enough at stake, and in the end it wraps itself up a bit too handily.
The award-winning soundtrack more than makes up for the lack of “live” music, with a particularly poignant sequence on the tour bus where the whole band and their companions sing along to Elton John’s Tiny Dancer. Almost Famous, in spite of a few flaws, is a must see beautiful movie, a tour de force of acting, and a deeply personal love letter to rock n’ roll.
Rating: 4 out of 5