Almost Famous (2000) – A Movie Review
“I have to go home”, fifteen year old William Miller (Patrick Fugit) says to Penny Lane (Kate Hudson) “Shh, you are home”, she replies definitively.
Released in 2000 Cameron Crowe’s semi autobiographical picture ‘Almost Famous’ is a beautifully nostalgic romp through the rock n roll era of the 1970’s. Music, groupies, freedom, love, self-expression, possibility and change defined a generation of young people.
Almost Famous follows William Miller a talented aspiring young Rock Journalist from San Diego who is given the opportunity to go on the road with ‘Stillwater’ during their ‘Almost Famous’ tour of 1973.
Armed with nothing but pencils, notepaper and a simple tape recorder he is asked to compile three thousand words for Rolling Stone magazine (whom after seeing some of his earlier efforts for Creem magazine mistake him for an established Music Journalist) detailing the escapades of this middle of the road band as they strive for fame and success and wealth. Though as we discover through the course of the film still waters run deep in William Miller.
In a time where arguably musical influence and creativity was at its peak the story is in essence a coming of age drama about the experiences William has on the road and how those experiences ultimately shape his personality. The central element of the story is its depiction of how this socially awkward and immature teenager blossoms and discovers who he is and where he wants to go in life. His jaunt across America is about learning how to live outside his protective mothers bubble, discovering sexuality experiencing what life has to offer if your willing to put yourself out there.
The sense of time and emotion is so acute that it is possible to completely immerse yourself in the antics of the band, the hormones of William or the free spirited nature of the early 1970’s wishing you had experienced this, if for only a fleeting moment. The nostalgic vibe is no more apparent than in a scene on the tour bus when after the guitarist Russell Hammond (Billy Cudrup) goes AWOL after a fracas with the lead singer (Jason Lee) and retreats to “find something real”. After gate crashing a house party filled with astonished teenagers he drops acid and leaps of the roof. The next morning having been rescued by Stillwater’s prickly manager the mood on the tour bus is somewhat subdued. As an indisputable example of the power of music the whole tour bus erupts into a spontaneous chorus of Elton John’s seminal hit ‘Tiny Dancer’ a moment that so perfectly encapsulates the experiences and lifestyle of the characters and engrosses the audience.
In ‘Almost Famous’ we are treated to some stellar performances from the ensemble cast. The ever-reliable Frances McDormand gives a subtle performance as William’s mother, a College Professor who abhors rock n roll and believes in progressive politics, vegetarianism and psychological well being. Her character is the party pooper banning rock albums and embarrassing her son William when he goes to a concert shouting, “Don’t take drugs!” from her car window. Despite her outward disapproval of her children’s ambitions Frances McDormand delivers a performance that allows us to sympathise with her individual plight as we recognise that she is simply a mother with her own values who wants the best for her kids.
Phillip Seymour Hoffman gives a typically quirky performance as Lester Bangs the music critic who guides William throughout his experience on the road with Stillwater. Despite only being limited to a few scenes his contribution adds much to the texture of the film.
Patrick Fugit, in his first role gives an assured performance as the socially inept rock n roll fan who when offered the chance of a lifetime makes the most of the experience whilst staying true to his core values and beliefs. As was obviously intended he is completely believable and his naive charm is endearing.
However, special consideration must be reserved for Kate Hudson who as the ultimate groupie or ‘band aide’ ‘Penny Lane’ is the personification of the spirit of rock n roll. Her character is written with particular delicacy and her views on the world and her place in it completely justify her actions throughout the film. Her performance is infectious and leaves the audience wishing that we were like that, or at least knew someone like that. However, the complexity of the character becomes more evident towards the climax of the film and Hudson manages to retain Penny Lane’s allure even though her world is crashing down around her.
In ‘Almost Famous’ the audience is treated to a warm comforting feeling reminiscent of listening so intently to the lyrics of your favourite song one moment to feeling your throat catch and your eyes water the next.
The sheer exuberance of ‘Almost Famous’ is hard to top. Even ten years later I am still in love with this film. It transports you to a different era, well before my time and leaves you wishing that you had been on the road with ‘Stillwater’ in the summer of 1973.