Movie Reviews

Almost Famous

Reviewed by: Scott Chitwood
Rating: 8 out of 10
Movie Details: View here

Almost FamousStarring:
Billy Crudup as Russell Hammond
Frances McDormand as Elaine Miller
Kate Hudson as Penny Lane
Jason Lee as Jeff Bebe
Patrick Fugit as William Miller
Anna Paquin as Polexia
Fairuza Balk as Sapphire
Noah Taylor as Dick Roswell
Philip Seymour Hoffman as Lester Bangs

Summary:
Almost Famous is a nostalgic look back at the era of classic rock and the life of a young man growing up in it. The film is really funny, has a great cast, and has a good soundtrack. This is a great follow up to Cameron Crowe's Jerry MacGuire.

Story:
In the early 70’s, William Miller (Patrick Fugit) is a 14 year old aspiring rock ‘n roll journalist. A bit advanced for his age, he writes for a magazine called “Creem”. One of his assignments is to interview Black Sabbath, but he is unfortunately turned away at the door of the concert. While figuring out what to do next, he meets several people that end up being major influences on his life.
He meets Penny Lane (Kate Hudson) and several other “band aids”. These girls are slightly better than groupies in that they hang out with the bands and help to inspire their music. They hook up with them at concerts then travel with them from city to city. William meets Penny and proceeds to fall for her, despite the fact that she thinks she’s in love with the guitarist of Stillwater (a fictional band) by the name of Russell Hammond (Billy Crudup).

At the same time, William meets the whole Stillwater band who are opening for Black Sabbath. They see that he’s a fan and they allow him to interview them instead. It is his first introduction to the world of rock ‘n roll, despite having his mom wait for him in the car outside.

Rolling Stone sees that William is a great writer and they ask him to follow Stillwater on tour and do a feature article on them (not realizing that he’s only 14). William’s mom (Frances McDormand) reluctantly allows him to go, but keeps close tabs on him the entire way thus freaking everyone out.

On the trip, William learns a lot about music, real world responsibility, true friendship, and true love. He also discovers that there’s no place like home. William eventually must face the decision of writing an article that is a true picture of Stillwater or writing a fluff piece that makes the guys look cool.

This film is loosely based on the life of the writer and director, Cameron Crowe.

What Worked:
Almost Famous is definitely an enjoyable film. It deals with some really tough questions like who are your real friends? Is the life of a celebrity more fulfilling than a normal life? These are the things that William must deal with as he goes through this strange trip.

But despite these deep questions, it is still a very funny film. There are some funny revelations as the band thinks they are about to die. There’s a funny joke about Mick Jagger (you don’t expect him to be performing when he’s 50, do you?) and fax machines (it transmits pages at 18 minutes per page!). The film is even not above having one character run smack into a wall for a joke.

But by far some of the funniest moments involve Frances McDormand as Elaine Miller, William’s mom. She’s quirky, loving, and not afraid to lecture an out of control rock star who “kidnaps” her son. Frances steals every scene she’s in and was one of the highlights of the film.

Also among the great cast is Billy Crudup who plays Stillwater guitarist Russell Hammond. He does a great job in the performance and you can count on seeing more of him in starring roles in the future.

Being a fan of classic rock, I particularly enjoyed the soundtrack. They did a great job of creating the fictional band and giving them a rock ‘n roll style similar to those other legendary bands. This movie is worth seeing at a screen with a good sound system.

What Didn't Work:
While I loved the music, I was a bit disappointed that they didn’t feature much of Stillwater’s songs. The movie never showed more than a minute at a time of a song or of their performance. We’re told that they are an extremely popular rock band, but we aren’t given much of a chance to see why. I understand this wasn’t the focus of the film, but it was something I was looking for.

And as much as I love music, I had a hard time connecting with the characters and their passion for rock ‘n roll. To these people, it is almost a religion. They seem to believe there’s a mystical quality to listening to songs like “Fever Dog”. I had a hard time identifying with that and it left a disconnect between me and the characters. I really didn’t care much about their love for music or why they loved music. That left me not really caring when they had other more important problems. When one character is near death, it just didn’t seem like a big deal.

I also had a hard time trying to figure out whether or not the film was condemning using drugs, glorifying drug use, or simply not saying anything one way or the other. William’s mentor tells him not to use drugs. His mother tells him not to use drugs. One character almost dies from using drugs. However, shortly after, one of the band members makes a joke about not remembering what he said while high on acid. It kind of left me confused as to what Crowe wanted people to walk away thinking.

I was also disappointed that Anna Paquin had a very minor role in the film. I thought she was great in X-Men and was hoping to see more of her acting talent, but she has little to do here. But then again, this isn’t her movie.

Finally, I was a little disappointed that they felt like they had to throw nudity in to secure the R rating. In a movie that deals with sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll, the film is overall rather tame. Not much is shown. It’s more implied than anything. Yet, towards the end, they threw in a half second shot of nudity. It didn’t help the story. It didn’t make the character develop any more. It didn’t make the parties any wilder. It just seemed to be thrown in for the heck of it.

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