I must admit I am a huge Cameron Crowe fan, hell I even mildly enjoyed Elizabethtown despite the nonsensical premise and stunted characterization, but even without Mr Crowe’s fingerprints all over it, Almost Famous is a masterpiece in musical cinema. It’s bold, it takes risks but most of all it depicts multiple love stories in one film and buries them deep inside a coming of age tale. It’s a film I’m only just starting to understand despite having watched it dozens of times since its release in 2000
Starring Patrick Fugit as William Miller, Almost Famous is the story of 15 year old William’s cultural awakening as he is sent on the 1973 tour with the fictional band Stillwater only to find the music culture he expected is nowhere to be found. The drugs, girls and alcohol are all still there but the hostile rock star is nowhere to be found as everyone wants to be his friend. When he meets Penny Lane (Kate Hudson) he discovers the true importance of the music he claims to write for as the life he left behind with mother Elaine (Frances McDormand) starts to slowly slip away. However as he starts to be accepted William must make an ultimate decision about what’s really important, the music or the people listening to it.
Crowe’s worlds are always idealistic, the kind of places you expect but never find. Almost Famous however avoids this issue of reality by centring its story around Crowe’s real life experiences. The film emulates Crowe’s childhood which adds credence to what is happening on screen. Fugit is an excellent replacement for Crowe, an unconventional movie star, one unsure of himself and his abilities but never afraid to put one foot in front of the other. He makes William a lovable dope, a wickedly smart kid with a keen eye but one with much left to learn.
The film takes flight thanks to its core trio of actors from Fugit’s William to Hudson’s Penny Lane and finally Billy Crudup’s Russell Hammond, a corrupting rock star who still dreams of being the church boy his mother imagined him to be. His interactions with William are almost brotherly despite the insane amount of manipulation and control he exerts over his young protégé. Crudup is a working mans actor, a guy who plugs away with great roles and gets little recognition, and with Almost Famous its almost a shame as Hammond is a role made for him. Narcissistic to the point of excess but with a hidden self loathing, Hammond is a complex figure whose rock star life eats away at his conscience despite the fact he loves almost every minute of it.
Hudson however brings everything together, she glues the two sides of the film together, William’s self realization and musical discovery and Russell’s emotional yet twisted descent into the feelings he has kept deep down for years. Hudson works wonders as the Beatles named band aid (never ever call her a groupie) works her magic on the two as they fight for her attention. The film itself is about these two men but for a second, maybe even longer, Hudson persuades us its her film and you came to watch her. Charming and lost at the same time, Penny is a rule breaker but a kind hearted one, someone who kills with kindness.
It would be my mistake to credit the wonderful performances just to the actors themselves as the material they are given thanks to Crowe’s light but relevant script cannot be understated. Funny and compelling, every word coming out of someone’s mouth is carefully thought out. The films final line, a sneak peek into the mind of someone you have been trying to understand for the films 2 hour run time, says everything about the type of film Crowe is trying to make but it also leaves enough up to your imagination so that you may add your own little specificities to colour the story.
Almost Famous is Crowe’s best film (Yes, even over Jerry Maguire and Say Anything) and one worth revisiting and revisiting because every little part of this journey to enlightenment says something different about music, life, death and faith while having a kick ass soundtrack to go with it.