What a wondrously wonderful film! From the opening moments where we hear the unmistakeable sound of a needle being placed on a vinyl record set to the different film studios’ logos, to the opening credits being hand written (and also erased at times) with a pencil, we know we are in for a fun film watching experience. And oh, how fun indeed! Besides the fantastic soundtrack from the rock n roll era of the 70s, writer director Cameron Crowe takes us on this semi-autobiographical adventure, where a boy poses as a man to experience life through rock n roll! Displaying an envious romp through a concert tour with and up and coming (ficticious) band, Almost Famous shows us how rewarding life can be if you grab it by the balls, but also the virtue of being shamelessly intelligent in a world that tells you that it ain’t cool to be that way! This is one of the best films of all time….!!
We first meet our young hero William Miller when he is just 11 years old (although he thinks he is 12 – long story). He lives with his over protective yet loving mother (Frances McDormand) and rebellious older sister Anita (Zooey Deschanel) in sunny San Diego, California. Mom is a nonconformist who is raising her children to think for themselves, so long as they abide by her rules which include celebrating Christmas on a day in September, no rock n roll music and NO DRUGS! When Anita can no longer handle living at home (just after she turns 18) she packs up and leaves with her boyfriend to become a flight attendant, and does so quite ceremoniously to the sounds of Simon and Garfunkel! Before she departs, she informs William to look under his bed where he finds an emergency style tote of rock n roll records with handy notes advising William as to the proper way to listen to each record!
Cut to four years later and we meet the 15 year old William (Patrick Fugit) who looks like a typical 1970s teenager with the scruffy hair and long pants. There is nothing typical about our hero, so discovers famous rock n roll critic for Creem Magazine, Lester Bangs (Phillip Seymour Hoffman). Through the persistence of sending him his articles from the high school newspaper, William gets to meet Bangs and have a sit down with him to learn the ins-and-outs of rock journalism including the virtue of being unmerciful and honest and no matter what happens, DO NOT MAKE FRIENDS WITH THE ROCKSTARS! In this brilliant scene, William is given an assignment by Bangs to write 1,000 words on Black Sabbath after going to their concert that night.
Not having a ticket, William is forced to find a clever way in to the concert via backstage; after a couple of failed attempts, he finally makes it in, and it is in that moment the real WIlliam Miller is born!! As he enters the bowels of the arena, a look of gracious awe falls about his face as if he knows he is exactly where he needs to be at that moment in his life – we should all feel so lucky! It is here where he meets the world: An up and coming band called Stillwater, many rock clingers and many groupies (excuse me, Band-Aids), including the world renown and beautifully exotic (Miss) Penny Lane (Kate Hudson).
Stillwater is comprised of four total members, but mostly the world is interested in lead guitarist Russell Hammond (Billy Crudup). William makes fast friends with Penny and despite Lester Bangs’ advice, William is seemingly infatuated with Russell. After the show William and Penny make plans to go see Stillwater play in Los Angeles, which makes William as excited as any teenage boy would be making plans with a beautiful young lady!
Despite learning in LA that Russell and Penny Lane are some sort of an item, the trip is very rewarding for William and it leads to Rolling Stone Magazine hiring him to travel with Stillwater on their tour across the United States. The man who hires William is Ben Fong-Torres who mistakes William for a fully grown well adjusted adult, maybe due to his writing ability and the way he pitches his ideas to him. Whatever the reason, William finds himself having to convince his overprotective mother to let him go on tour with the band! Not for nothing, but God bless actors like Frances McDormand who know just the right amount of spice to add to a role that may have otherwise been a cliche. The scene where she grants permission is short and to the point and the way in which McDormand delivers the lines is priceless – good on ya Frances!
So we find our hero travelling across the country trying to write this article for Rolling Stone (sometimes on napkins in a bathtub) about the up and coming band (from Troy Michigan) Stillwater! He learns lesson after lesson and DEFINITELY becomes friends with the band! He calls Lester Bangs at all hours of the night seeking advice as he has trouble writing his article. These scenes between Bangs and William on the phone are an important piece to the film. Most of the tour scenes are super fun to watch and are happening at a breakneck frenetic pace, and the meetings between William and Bangs help provide a calm center in the rock n roll storm and to the film! One of the calls comes after the tour and the conversation is filled with beautiful honesty and artful sweetness where Bangs explains the integrity it takes to be a great writer – judicious and prudent…!!
Every film lover DESERVES to see this incredible film! Not only is the plot exciting and inspiring, but the music is great complementing each scene/moment perfectly!** Crowe at the helm is on fire directing his script giving us all interesting characters to watch do their thing! From the Rolling Stone execs to the groupies on tour, we are constantly entertained by all of them throughout the film. Even at the end where the film gets wrapped up in a nice little bow, it is done so with such charm and with a really cool and unique set up, that we don’t mind. Crowe trusts the audience to trust that his characters are intelligent to realize life doesn’t always have a happy ending – just this moment of this character’s life does. It takes some serious confidence as a filmmaker to do this, and Mr. Crowe, we are happy that you did…..
** Elton John’s song Tiny Dancer is set to a sort of crossroads moment of the film and is perceived by many as one of the best uses of a song in a movie ever.