Almost Famous

In an otherwise boring summer, Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous is a wonderful breath of fresh air. This is Crowe's first movie since the Jerry Maguire, and the wait was certainly worth it. Crowe has a knack for writing dialogue that is heartfelt without descending to the level of melodramatic. Almost Famous is a fictionalized account of Crowe's experiences writing for Rolling Stone in the mid 1970s, when he was only fifteen. The movie is less about actual music and more about the love of music. It is the story of a boy experiencing the world and turning (literally and figuratively) into a man. William Miller (Patrick Fugit) is the character based on Crowe. He lives with his overbearing but loving mother (Frances McDormand, Wonder Boys, Primal Fear). His mother was too much for his sister, who left to become a flight attendant and left him with a cache of records.

The records were the catalyst in William's life. He was much younger than his peers, and constantly picked upon. He could escape in the music, getting lost with Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Joni Mitchell, and others. He begins writing about rock for his school newspaper and mails his articles to Lester Bangs (Philip Seymour Hoffman, Flawless, The Talented Mr. Ripley), the legendary editor of Creem magazine. Rolling Stone notices William's work in Creem, and offers him an assignment, covering the fictional band Stillwater. There, William meets Penny Lane (Kate Hudson, Gossip, Desert Blue). Penny adamantly insists she is not a groupie; she is a band-aid. Band-aids follow bands for the music, not for the sex. They love the band as a whole instead of idolizing individual members. They want to help inspire the band to make more music. Together, Bangs and Penny serve as contrasting teachers to William. Bangs is the absolute model of journalism. He does not want William befriending Stillwater. He wants William to maintain his objectivity so he can be merciless in his article. Penny is just the opposite. She wants William to experience everything about the band.

It does not help that the band, especially lead guitarist Russell Hammond (Billy Crudup, Jesus' Son, Waking the Dead) like William. Lead singer Jeff Bebe (Jason Lee, Dogma, Mumford) disagrees, and believes William is the enemy. Hammond gives William unprecedented access to everything the band does, including rising tensions between Hammond and Bebe. For the first time, William feels a sense of acceptance with Stillwater. Unlike the kids at school, they like him. He ignores Bangs' admonitions and this affects his article. William also has to deal with his infatuation for Penny, who shuns him for Hammond. Crowe mixes in (a surprising amount of) humor and pathos convincingly, almost painfully at times. This is his life, and Almost Famous is an intensely personal exploration of his own history. At some point in time, every teenager feels alienated. William used his love of music to rise above his loneliness.

All around, the performances are great. Especially for Fugit and Hudson, who were both not yet alive at during the timeframe of this movie. Fugit perfectly embodies the confusion, shyness, and timidity of his character. Hudson (she's the face on all the Almost Famous movie posters) lights up the screen every time she appears. Penny Lane is the heart of the movie, showing both how rock music can change a person and how it can delude someone. The look and feel of the mid 1970s is good. Stillwater looks and sounds like a real band, probably because of the work of Crowe's wife Nancy Wilson (of the band Heart), who wrote Stillwaters' songs. For Crudup, this is probably his highest profile film. He has all the makings of a big movie star (good looks, great acting ability), and hopefully, this film will show everybody what so few people currently know and enjoy. He is always mesmerizing on screen, as he is here, playing air guitar. McDormand, who is not on screen for that much time, is also great as William's eccentric mother. Together, Crowe and all the actors put together a moving, emotional movie, one that is sure to please all audiences.

Haro Rates It: Really Good.
2 hours, Rated R for language, drug content, and brief nudity.

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