by Greg Muskewitz
The weirdest thing about Almost Famous is that it’s almost my story. The main protagonist, William Miller (Patrick Fugit) is a San Diego native, 15-years-old, with rock ‘n roll on his mind circa 1969-1973. (The music and references range from The Who, Led Zeppelin, The Beach Boys, Sunny & Cher, etc.) I’m a San Diego native, granted, several decades later, but with film on my mind, circa 1994-2000 (and growing).At age 15, he begins to write as a rock critic for Creem Magazine, making friends with first-rate critic Lester Bangs (Philip Seymour Hoffman). When I was 15, I began writing as the movie critic for the now defunct The Daily Californian as well as The Star-News, making friends with San Diego’s first-rate movie critics Duncan Shepherd (The Reader). But as both of our budding careers took off, his got better; along the way Rolling Stone picks him up to do a story on Stillwater (a fictional band), and go on tour with them.
"Almost my story."
William is forewarned by Lester not to befriend the group for fear of losing his integrity as a writer (Stillwater tells him to, “just make us look cool”) and avoid their offerings as swill merchants (a code of honor all writers must uphold!). Lead singer Jeff Bebe (Jason Lee) often refers to journalists as a
group’s worst enemy. Also blaring down on William is his mother, played by Frances McDormand, who warns him not to do drugs, and as a little kid quizzes him on the qualities that made Atticus Finch a good father. (To her, Simon and Garfunkel is “Poetry of drugs and promiscuous sex.”). All that William wants to do is have a little fun, be accepted (he suffers from the “out-crowd” syndrome) and turn in a great piece. Most of all though, as time shows, he’s in love with Penny Lane (Kate Hudson), a “Band-Aid,” (they’re not groupies because they don't have sex with the musicians — “Just blow-jobs”) as she says, “We inspire the music.” (Get it? They aid the bands.) However, the group trusts William because he’s not just a critic, but a fan as well. While he’s getting the insider info, his only problem is competition for Penny, who’s too busy “inspiring” lead guitarist Russell Hammond (Billy Crudup) to notice his crush.
The film takes off like a jet on fire, and flies without the slightest bit of turbulence (even though there is a hilarious turbulent plane flight during the movie). As a journalist, I understand the advice Bangs gives him about artistic integrity and getting used for (free) publicity. Crowe, who last directed Jerry Maguire, and was the hailed author of “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” (taking care of scriptwriting duties, too), has always included a lot of realism in his work. For it’s time, Fast Times was a lot less superficial than most teen-age movies. And Jerry Maguire, maybe a little fanciful, was still about following your heart. Almost Famous is still yet even better — Crowe’s best work to date. The whole key to getting the most out of this film is to know that despite the fictionalized names, all these events and occurrences are true. William Miller is just a fictional representation of Cameron Crowe himself. It’s like an ultimate fantasy, but it’ true! (Hyperboles and embellishments taken into consideration.) The story flows like a dream or desire — the one thing you want to go after most is always on the move; you don’t quite capture it until the end. So it is not really Miller who I’m like, but in fact Crowe. (No question about it, his story and experiences are much better, and it isn’t anything for me to pout about.)
Hoffman, with his laid-back charm, or je ne sais quoi, is just the Sultan of Cool. I hear he’s a good reincarnation of the real deal. The other source of natural coolness comes from newcomer Fugit, who handles the role with a boyish charm and adroitly inherits the Crowe persona into his own. Hudson, who I noticed but brushed off in 200 Cigarettes and Gossip, really shines and sparkles here. She brings a breezy charisma to the role and shimmers in it. (Check her out in Desert Blue as well.)
I’m willing to bet Almost Famous will be a major Oscar contender, with Crowe undoubtedly recognized for his work. I’d like to believe he has got a real good chance; it’s an audience pleaser, but without the need compromise the story in order to attain that status. Describable as a fun-for-all show-and-tell, as the movie proceeds, you’re with them on this trip as a silent participant, and it’s a blast! What more could you want?
With Bijou Phillips, Anna Paquin, Fairuza Balk, Zooey Descanel, Noah Taylor and Terry Chen.[Masterpiece.]
link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=3454&reviewer=172
originally posted: 10/18/00 09:52:54