Initially, Almost Famous seems like a rock and roll coming of age tale with William Miller (Patrick Fugit) serving as surrogate for writer/director Cameron Crowe, who began writing cover stories for Rolling Stone while still in his teens. It’s a fascinating premise: a young fan allowed into the inner sanctum of rock during the hedonistic 1970s makes a living recording his impressions. What’s soon apparent is that an adolescent Crowe was more mature than most of the rock stars he interviewed, possessing an ability to recognize another person’s distinct point of view and the talent to communicate it. So Almost Famous isn’t so much about William becoming an adult as the oddball group of people around him coming to terms with the consequences of their actions.
William goes on tour with Stillwater, a band on the cusp of major fame, and observes the rivalry between soulful guitar player Russell Hammond (Billy Crudup) and prima donna lead singer Jeff Bebe (Jason Lee). But his attention is drawn to Penny Lane (Kate Hudson), leader of the groupies who call themselves “band-aids” and function as earnest muses. Meanwhile, William receives very different life and career advice from his ferociously protective mother Elaine (Frances McDormand) and Lester Bangs (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the erudite rock critic he most admires.
Almost Famous is by turns funny and touching, frivolous and smart. Cameron Crowe uses the outrageous situations William finds himself in to comment on the contradictory nature of human relationships, and the importance of recognizing genuine and illusory connections. He juxtaposes fictional characters (the Allmanesque Stillwater) with real contemporaries such as Bangs and it works because Crowe has made such a full-bodied portrait of the time, with its intoxicating brew of innocence and decadence.
Tying everything together is the music, and not just the film’s superbly constructed soundtrack. A pure devotion to music – beyond ego, beyond commerce – is what binds these characters together. Almost Famous isn’t simply a nostalgia piece recalling the heyday of rock. It’s about the active love of good music and how that can transform lives and shape dreams. Corny as that sounds, it happens every day.
Review by Serena Donadoni
Released on September 15, 2000 by DreamWorks
First published in the Metro Times.