Movie Review: Almost Famous

By Ani Thurman


Almost Famous (2000) is a fictionalized autobiography based on Cameron Crowe’s (writer/director) adolescence. It’s a coming-of-age story that will take you back to the 70s and make you feel as if you lived it.

It’s 1973. The film follows William Miller (Patrick Fugit), a 15-year-old aspiring rock journalist. William receives an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to travel with an up-and-coming band, Stillwater. He’s assigned by Rolling Stone magazine to write an article over them while on tour. William’s overbearing mother (Frances McDormand) is obviously hostile to the idea of this. She definitely goes out of her way to protect her son, but is aware of her strict tendencies.

Against her better judgement, he is given permission to go. Through the struggles our protagonist is yet to face, he finds comfort and support in his mentor and famous Creem magazine rock critic, Lester Bangs (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Lester is the epitome of uncool, and he seems to like it that way. He warns William of the dangers of befriending the rock stars he will have to report on: “I know you think those guys are your friends. You wanna be a true friend to them? Be honest, and unmerciful.”

While on tour William gets especially attached to Penny Lane (Kate Hudson), a groupie, or “Band-Aid,” as she calls it. She takes the role of his guide, leading him through this crazy, new experience. She’s a mysterious woman with an alluring aura. Everything is an adventure with her and that draws people in. He develops a crush on Penny, despite the fact she is hopelessly in love with frontman of the band, Russell Hammond (Billy Crudup). Russell is married, but nonetheless, feels strongly about her as well.

Throughout the tour, William is being manipulated by the band in hopes for a good article, though Russell genuinely likes him. However, this doesn’t change the fact that the band is slightly self-interested. Once William is surrounded by the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, he’s a little too starstruck to follow Lester’s advice. He is ultimately choosing between staying true to the art he’s creating, or maintaining the relationships he’s made on the road. Russell even confronts William off-the-recorded, saying, “Just make us look cool.”

The band is not quite big enough to support the ego they already have. Eventually this will destroy the band, revealing jealousy, corruption, and fame absorbed intentions. Seeing this for himself on many occasions, William realizes the flaws of his heroes. Though everyone has imperfections, and being young and pliant, you know William will continue having a strong bond with the people he has met.

Overall, this is a very episodic film. This can be a negative factor (as is, for many viewers, the R rating), seeming disorderly or hard to follow. I personally like seeing films shot in this manner; it gives a sense of authenticity. It also has a very lighthearted exterior. You will find more often than not that dramatic scenes are purposely kept subtle. In the end, I found Almost Famous unfulfilling, but that is only because I desired to see more.

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