Almost Famous - 2000
Almost Famous was written and directed by Cameron Crowe, following-up his breakout 1996 film Jerry Maguire. Crowe manages again to recruit a bounty of stars in Frances McDormand, Billy Crudup, Jason Lee, Noah Taylor, and the late GREAT Philip Seymour Hoffman, among many others. He also made a star out of Kate Hudson. The screenplay is unique as it’s a coming of age story wrapped-up in the rise to fame of a rock and roll band. The story centers on a fifteen-year-old boy writing a Rolling Stone Magazine article about an up and coming rock-band as he follows them along in their tour.
Cameron Crowe once again delivers a screenplay that is full of likable and complex characters. One of the main reasons why this screenplay feels so genuine is because it’s partly based on Crowe’s own experiences as a Rolling Stone writer. He toured for three weeks with the Allman Brother’s Band at sixteen years old. We see Patrick Fugit as William Miller essentially playing Crowe and living out the experiences he had meeting his musical heroes, among these losing his virginity and falling in love. Quick note: I connected with the way he found “good-music” (air-quotes of subjectivity) via his big sister giving him CDs. When I was a kid I pretty much listened to whatever my big brother listened too.
One of the aspects of the story that I found interesting was the search for something “real” in all the wrong places. The band constantly searches to reach their fullest musical potential but they are mainly focused on their popularity and achieving fame. It takes a near-death experience for them to be real with one another, saying all the betrayals and resentments they carry between them. The girls that follow them proclaim themselves to be above the label of a “groupie” because they are here to inspire the music and not sleep with the musicians. Yet, they sleep with them and they are even sold towards the end of the film for a case of beer and fifty-bucks. This takes us to Kate Hutson as Penny Lane.
Kate Hudson plays the leader of the “Band Aids” and the one responsible for their “inspiring their music” philosophy. This is the career defining role in Hudson’s resume and a performance she has never been able to surpass or match. Penny Lane is the guiding hand that takes William through this journey as he is experiencing the rock-star lifestyle for the first time in his life. She is full of life and joy yet you can always see a hint of sadness behind her eyes because she knows that half of the words she spews to William are simply that, words. She was nominated, along with Frances McDormand who plays Williams’s overbearing mother, for Best Supporting Actress at the Academy Awards. Both giving completely different performances and both deserving of the recognition.
The late GREAT Philip Seymour Hoffman plays Lester Bangs, a rock and roll critic for Cream Magazine and mentor to William. The beauty of this performance is that outside of a couple of scenes with William, he is mostly tied to acting over the phone. William constantly calls him when he runs into a roadblock and Bangs offers up insightful and unabashedly honest advice. Hoffman could’ve… phoned… it in… given the fact that he is left alone with really nothing to play with, but he managed to add a mountain of mannerisms and quirks to his character, making him one of the more interesting aspects of this movie. My favorite advice from him comes towards the end when William is trying to finish his article but has guilt because he created a friendship with the band; “Because they make you feel cool. And hey. I met you. You are not cool. That's because we're uncool. And while women will always be a problem for us, most of the great art in the world is about that very same problem. Good-looking people don't have any spine. Their art never lasts. They get the girls, but we're smarter. The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you're uncool.”. And that’s real.
Almost Famous sadly didn’t find the audience it deserved while it was at the box-office, but through the years it has gained a nice cult following. It delivers one of the most unique coming of age stories I have ever seen, balancing the rock and roll life and a young boy becoming a man. While it does drag a little towards the end, the movie flows very well taking you along for the ride and delivering a fun experience. Philip Seymour Hoffman’s advice over the phone is why I love movies.
Almost Famous is currently streaming on Amazon Prime. I almost didn’t do a word play with the title… almost… watch it!
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