Almost Famous (2000)

Almost Famous (2000) – “Rock and roll can save the world… and the chicks are great.” Granted, the character who says these words in Cameron Crowe’s 2000 film Almost Famous is kind of an egocentric buffoon, but even egocentric buffoons get one right every now and then. Of course really, when I say rock and roll I mean music in general… and when I say music in general I really mean artistic creation in general… (It’s called synecdoche. I feel clever… even though I used pretty much this exact introduction in my review of the Japanese movie Fish Story, in which rock and roll literally does save the world.) Almost Famous is a snapshot to a world that doesn’t really exist anymore. Great music is still being made but that “rock and roll can save the world” attitude is gone. We have celebrity worship still but no more rock gods. Cameron Crowe lived through those times though, and brought us a wonderful [fictionalized] depiction of that world.

Young William Miller (Michael Angarano) is an innocent 11-year-old high schooler when his rebellious sister (Zooey Deschanel) leaves the house and the “tyranny” overprotective mother (Frances McDormand). She leaves behind her record collection and young William falls in love with rock ‘n roll. A couple years later William (Patrick Fugit) is an aspiring rock journalist who, at 15, actually gets work writing for Creem Magazine under the tutelage of the celebrated [and real] rock critic Lester Bangs (Phillip Seymour Hoffman). While on assignment covering Black Sabbath, he meets the band Stillwater: manager Dick (Noah Taylor), drummer Silent Ed Vallencourt (John Fedevich), bassist Larry Fellows (Mark Kozelek), singer Jeff Bebe (Jason Lee), and enigmatic guitarist Russell Hammond (Billy Crudup). He also meets the “Band-aids” (Bijou Phillips, Anna Paquin, Fairuza Balk, NOT groupies they insist) and their leader Penny Lane (Kate Hudson). When Rolling Stone (unaware of his actual age) calls William up looking for some freelance work, he suggest an article on Stillwater and begins to follow them on tour.

The cast is uniformly excellent. Fugit is great in the Cameron Crowe role, and I think it’s odd he hasn’t had more of a career since this movie. Stillwater is, apparently, an amalgamation of Crowe’s experiences following around the Eagles, Led Zeppelin, Humble Pie (Peter Frampton was a music supervisor for the movie and even has a cameo as Humble Pie’s roadie), Lynyrd Skynyrd, and the Allman Brothers Band. Frances McDormand makes the overprotective mother into a character that deserves our sympathy instead of our mockery. Phillip Seymour Hoffman, playing one of the few real people in the movie, serves as a Greek chorus of the film and is just great. Jimmy Fallon plays the devil. Not literally but his character is everything wrong with the music industry. Kate Hudson, who has gone on to make a legion of just awful romantic comedies, was impossible not to fall in love with in this movie. She set the bar high in this movie and has never been able to clear it since, which is a pity. Jason Lee takes what could have been just a comic relief role and turns it into a real character whose insecurities reflect those of many performers. Billy Crudup is an actor who changes wildly from role to role and as usual he totally disappears into his role as Russell. The writing of the movie is great. The movie looks great. The soundtrack is beyond excellent. Almost Famous is one of my all-time favorite movies and if you haven’t seen it yet fix that this very second.

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