Rock Star. Dot-com billionaire. Cowboy. At some point in life everyone fantasizes about their dream job (in my case it's the seat opposite Ebert…). Unfortunately most people end up doing the "sensible" thing, take an average job doing something that pays the bills, and spend the rest of their life wondering 'What if'? In 1973, William Miller, the hero of Almost Famous determined he would never ask that question.
We're with the band
William has it tough: fifteen years old, bright, awkward, and with no friends, he lives with his shrewish, domineering, anti-everything mother who is convinced that anyone who listens to rock music will become a drug addled sex fiend. This doesn't make his aspirations to be a rock journalist any easier. Not one to be dissuaded from a goal, he pounds out his articles on his trusty Smith Corona. And then the unthinkable happens - the music editor for "Rolling Stone" magazine, intrigued by William's fresh and novel writing style calls with an offer - William will go on tour with "Stillwater", an up and coming band, report on his experiences and get paid a princely sum. Who needs the lottery?!?
First, let me say that being born in the seventies (or god forbid sixties) is not a prerequisite to enjoying this movie. Written and directed by Cameron Crowe, "Almost Famous" is a semi-autobiographical account of his first job with Rolling Stone in the seventies. The Oscar-buzz began even before the movie was released and with good reason - Crowe had already authored some great actor friendly screenplays ("Say Anything" and "Jerry Maguire" come to mind), and this outing is no exception
Crowe skillfully combines the coming-of-age and life-on-the-road elements of the story, with complex characterizations, well-scripted dialogue and a unique soundtrack, which enables him to accurately capture the spirit of the era. The "reality" aspects of the film are further enhanced by carefully choreographed concert sequences. Thankfully casting was given as much consideration as the rest of the film.
Billy Crudup should finally get the recognition he deserves with his portrayal of Russel, the enigmatic lead guitarist for Stillwater, who shuns the spotlight and lives the music. Crudup is able to balance detached passion, a keen comedic sense, confused sincerity and lightning swift mood shifts to create an almost Svengali-like character. Newcomer Patrick Fugit shines as William, the shy ingenue who struggles to remain objective when thrust into a foreign world awash with temptation. He has you cringing in anticipation of the his abrupt crash back into reality.
Kate Hudson, true to her lineage (Goldie Hawn is her mom) is both ditzy and worldly as Penny Lane, the leader of the Band-Aids (groupies with class and a code of behavior), is able to convey a multitude of emotion with just a knowing smile. In spite of her worldly-beyond- her-years veneer, she betrays a guarded vulnerability that inspires pathos.
The supporting cast, including Kevin Smith regular Jason Lee (Clerks) and Philip Seymour Harris (The Talented Mr. Ripley) all deliver top-notch performances. My only quibble with the casting would have to be Frances McDormand's performance as William's mother. Her over-the-top manic behavior is distracting and annoying.
Except for one especially ridiculous sequence near the end of the film (I can't reveal more without spoiling a key plot twist, but at least it is short-lived) this movie would be perfect. But 'almost perfect' is close enough.