Loosely based on director Cameron Crowe’s experiences as a teenage rock journalist for Rolling stone magazine, Almost Famous is a coming-of-age drama set in 1973.
William Miller (Patrick Fugit) is a 15-year-old aspiring musical journalist and after meeting the editor of Creem magazine Lester Bangs (Philip Seymour Hoffman) he goes to a local gig to get an interview with Black Sabbath. It is while here that he meets the band Stillwater and finds himself whisked away with them on their Almost Famous tour. This level of interaction with band members Jeff Bebe (Jason Lee) and Russell Hammond (Billy Crudup) leads to him being hired by Rolling Stone magazine to do an article on the band’s ascent in popularity. But ignoring the advice of Lester he finds himself caught up in the politics of the band, notably the relationship between Russell and the enigmatic band aid, Penny Lane (Kate Hudson).
One of the most impressive elements of Almost Famous is the way in which Cameron Crowe separates reality from the exploits of the band on the road. There is constant references to them doing what they do to avoid reality, while the wonderfully named Penny Lane always refers to ˜real life’ as something other than the haze in which they are living. The use of characters like William’s mother Elaine (Frances McDormand) allow the narrative to snap back to reality when things get a little too caricatured. It is through her actions and reactions that we are able to allow the sometimes preposterous mini adventures; Fated airplane ride, sing-alongs to Tiny Dancer and virginity-stealing to take place and while her part is smaller than most she absolutely steals ever scene she is in, notably when she first speaks to Russell.
In fact the cast on the whole is superb. Pitched as a band of misfits thrust into the World that they idolize. Crowe must be thanking his lucky stars that megastar Brad Pitt passed on the role of Russell because he didn’t get enough leaving the role free for then almost famous actor Billy Crudup to take full advantage. Alongside him is the butter-wouldn’t-melt innocence of Fugit, the beautifully uncool Philip Seymour Hoffman on fine form and Jason Lee as the sometimes bitter and jealous Bebe. Everyone is out of their depth and bring an eloquence to the fore that highlights why we should care about them despite their questionable actions. These are outsiders to society, desperately trying to emulate.
Almost Famous is ostensibly a coming-of-age period drama, which amalgamates various bands from rock history in the 1970s under the guise of Stillwater. The soundtrack may be one of the best in film history, and Crowe clearly knows and loves this era in music. The characters on the whole are flawed, egotistical and selfish, yet as we follow their exploits we, like William can’t help but fall in love with them. Almost Famous is Cameron Crowe’s best film to date and a delightful slice of American nostalgia with enough character and heart to keep you hooked until the very last frame.