Almost Famous

          In 1968, Andy Warhol proclaimed, "In the future, everyone will be
  famous for 15 minutes." Even he would undoubtedly be shocked by just how
  true that pronouncement has become. So-called "reality" television programs
  have spawned cottage industries and the participants are quickly signed
  to lucrative contracts. It seems almost anyone with a modicum of talent
  (and many without) manages to find an agent and embark on a career in
  show business. The fame game has seemingly replaced baseball (not to
  mention motherhood and apple pie) as the national symbol of the
  United States.

          Back in the halcyon days of the early 1970s, however, there was still
  something a bit innocent in people striving for recognition. True, the
  somewhat selfish drive -- the "look at me!" mentality probably dates back
  to the dawn of time, but compared with the all-out, go-for-broke pursuit that
  has become the norm at the dawn of the 21st Century, the attitudes of 1973
  seem almost quaint.

          Clearly writer-director Cameron Crowe recognizes that in his genial
  and at times downright extraordinary new film
ALMOST FAMOUS. As he
  has on previous occasions (i.e., the book
Fast Times at Ridgemont High),
  Crowe mines his own experiences as a teenage rock journalist and
  has crafted an affectionate portrait of an era. As one who lived through
  the period and who sometimes bemoans the efforts of those who didn't,
  I can say that Crowe has perfectly captured the flavor of the times. The
  antiwar sentiment was dwindling, the sexual revolution was in full force
  and rock 'n' roll ruled. There was a freedom to the times that was the result
  of the hard fought efforts of our elder (blood or spiritual) siblings.

          Crowe's film centers on William Miller (played as a youngster by
  Michael Angarano and then by newcomer Patrick Fugit as a teen), an
  intelligent youngster with an overbearing mother (Frances McDormand)
  with dreams of a law career for her son, and a rebellious older sister
  (the vibrant if underused Zooey Deschanel). William has been skipped a
  few grades, so on the one hand he is mentally mature while physically
  underdeveloped. His acumen also makes him something of an oddball.
  More than anything, though, William wants to be a writer and he begins
  penning articles for a local paper and then sends them on to Lester
  Bangs (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a journalist once described as 'the
  romantic visionary of rock writing.' A contributor to
Rolling Stone, Creem
  and the Village Voice, Bangs becomes mentor to William (just as the
  real-life Bangs did with Crowe).

          While on an assignment to get an interview with the band Black
  Sabbath, William meets a clique of women who disdain the term "groupie"
  in favor of the more palatable "band-aids." The ringleader is Penny Lane
  (Kate Hudson) who takes a shine to William. When the fictional band
  Stillwater (Billy Crudup and Jason Lee, backed by musicians John Fedevich
  and Mark Kozelek) arrives, William impresses them with his knowledge
  and is invited backstage as part of their entourage. Despite frequent
  references to him as "the enemy" because of his journalistic credentials
  (and warnings from Bangs about becoming too friendly with the music
  makers), the youngster is accepted into the "family," particularly after
  being commissioned to write an article for
Rolling Stone magazine. In
  order to accomplish his mission, William goes on tour with Stillwater,
  serving as witness to every moment. He also forms an odd friendship
  with the band's guitarist Russell Hammond (Crudup) that is complicated
  by their common interest in Penny. While his mother frets, William
  experiences things he never even dreamed possible.

          Since this is clearly a labor of love for Crowe, the details are
  meticulously captured, from the period clothes to the Manhattan taxi
  cabs. From the start of his career, Crowe has always managed to coax
  strong performances from his casts and
ALMOST FAMOUS is no exception.
  Newcomer Patrick Fugit, with his baby face, deep dimples and mop of
  tousled dark hair, is perfectly cast as the Candide-like hero. He anchors
  the film with a deft portrait of a misfit who finds acceptance and
  a home. While it is impossible to look at Kate Hudson and not think of
  her famous mom Goldie Hawn, she is clearly her own person and never
  has been more accessible or shown more range on screen to date. With
  her turn as Penny Lane, she assumes a position as a major talent. As
  written, the role of William's mom teeters on caricature, but through the
  right balance of maternal affection and concern Frances McDormand keeps
  her human. Philip Seymour Hoffman offers yet another fine portrait in his
  increasing gallery of indelible supporting roles and there is also fine work
  from Noah Taylor (virtually unrecognizable) and Jason Lee as Stillwater's
  manager and lead singer, respectively. If the other female roles come off
  as somewhat sketchily, it is no fault of the actresses (like Oscar-winner
  Anna Paquin and Fairuza Balk, both of whom have proven their chops
  elsewhere).

          The most problematic role falls to Billy Crudup, who once again
  proves that he is a master of technique and skill. Crudup is the type
  of actor who disappears into a role, creating specific body language and
  vocal inflections for each part he plays. The way Crowe develops Russell,
  however, proves a bit disappointing. At first, the guitarist seems to be
  a big brother figure for William but there are more complicated
  underpinnings that are hinted at in the script. Crudup excels at playing
  the contradictory and complicated character but I was left with the feeling
  that the character's arc was altered to make him more likable to a
  mainstream audience. That perception is one of the few things that mars
  an otherwise excellent and enjoyable film.


                                 
Rating:                A -
                                 
MPAA Rating:       R for language, drug content and
                                                               brief nudity
                                 
Running time:      122 mins.
© 2000-2010 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.