Almost Famous is an absolute joy from start to finish, a thoroughly enjoyable, funny, emotional, and true film, with incredible performances from everyone involved, a plot that stays on just the right side of plausible, and a really good soundtrack as well (what else do you expect from a Cameron Crowe film?). It is compelling, real, and I can’t recommend it enough. As a film for someone my age, it is perfect. As a film for anyone else, it is perfect as well.
It tells the story of a teenager (Patrick Fugit) who ends up writing for Rolling Stone magazine, through touring with an up-and-coming band ‘Stillwater’, as well as charting his relationship with the various people he meets along the way.
It would be completely unbelievable, if the film wasn’t semi-autobiographical, from the director’s (Cameron Crowe) point of view, and a little bit of research uncovers that a lot of the events in the film actually happened in Crowe’s life. For example, he was lied to about his age by his mother, Penny Lane (Kate Hudson) is based on a real person, and he really did end up writing for Rolling Stone when he was 15. It is for this reason that the film seems a lot truer than it should do.
This is also a film that treats teenagers like adults. For once. My pet peeve in films is that all teenagers must be portrayed as unintelligent people with little to say. In this, the main character William is independent, intelligent, and with a very sure idea of what he wants. He is a proper character, with an arc, a journey, and proper dialogue. He acts in a way that a normal teenager might do, and he cares about his future instead of simply having sex. As I said, treated like an adult.
The other characters here are also brilliant, from Billy Crudup as the lead singer in Stillwater, who almost becomes the main character by the end, to an impressive Kate Hudson as Penny Lane, the ‘Band Aide’ who just doesn’t want to be called a groupie. Phillip Seymour Hoffman is typically fantastic as Lester Bangs, the editor of the magazine ‘Creem’, for which William had been writing before he became almost famous. Zooey Deschanel displays her typical kook as William’s sister, and Frances McDormand is charming as his mother, a woman conflicted by what she wants for her son, and what she knows his son is going to get for himself anyway. It is a brilliant cast, and they all lend something to the film which makes it more than the sum of its parts.
The dialogue is fast and quotable, and the scene where the plane is in an electrical storm is one the best ‘everything coming to a climax at once’ scenes I have ever seen.
Hoffman in particular has a wonderful scene in which he explains to William what he should and shouldn’t do with the band, as well as telling us some interesting details about his own life. It is a film embossed with bits like this, moments where you just have to stand back and appreciate that, at some point, there must have been a moment in Crowe’s life that informed such scenes. It is a true film, and honesty drips from every frame.
It also has the kind of soundtrack that makes you want to hunt it down, because every song on here is a classic. In fact, the soundtrack is a fairly suitable meta-critique for the entire film: crowd-pleasing, warm, and guaranteed to put a smile on your face. It has been said that ‘youth is wasted on youth’. In here, the message seems to be ‘enjoy it while you can. I recommend it to anyone with a pulse.