banner image

:: Almost Famous

Based largely on writer/director Cameron Crowe’s real life experiences as a teenage rock critic for Rolling Stone magazine, Almost Famous is a coming of age film for anyone who has ever been a fan. Fifteen year old William, played with wide eyed innocence by newcomer Patrick Fugit, gets the chance of a lifetime when he is commissioned by Rolling Stone to interview Stillwater, a band on the brink of stardom in 1973. Despite his formidable mother’s objections, played with great sympathy by Frances McDormand, William joins the band on tour. Although instantly dubbed “The Enemy”, (ie. a rock critic), William’s obvious adoration of the band gains him their trust and he becomes privy to the internal rivalries and backstage romances that he is constantly reminded are to be kept off the record.

The sex symbol of the band is lead guitarist Russell Hammond, (Billy Crudup, last seen in the indie gem, Jesus’ Son, in a star making performance). His preferential treatment by the record company and the fans infuriates the lead singer Jeff Bebe (played credibly by Jason Lee, finally graduating from Kevin Smith films). William struggles with his idolisation of Russell and his burgeoning love for Russell’s girlfriend away from home, the leader of the Band-Aids, Penny Lane (a Golden Globe winning performance by Kate Hudson). They distinguish themselves from groupies by claiming they are there for the music and only have oral sex with the band. It is Penny and Russell’s relationship that forms the heart of the film. It is a credit to Crowe’s directing talent that, though their relationship is seen only through William’s eyes, glimpsed alone together through the cracks of hotel room doors, it is as full and powerful as any onscreen romance. William realises that their relationship is pretence on both sides. Penny pretends that she doesn’t care, whilst secretly believing that Russell loves her, and Russell pretends his girlfriend back home is not an issue and that no one’s feelings are getting hurt here. William’s loyalty is tested and finally gives him a lesson in love and honesty, and shows him that his rock and roll heroes are flawed people suddenly given license to do anything.

Cameron Crowe is perfecting the art of sentiment through comedy, which he handled so skilfully in his previous film, “Jerry McGuire”. He has made a commercial, accessible film that retains its intelligence and integrity. The bittersweet nostalgic tone, beautiful cinematography and meticulous period detail made me nostalgic for a year in which I was not even born.

All the smaller roles are memorable, particularly Philip Seymour Hoffman, as Lester Bangs, the legendary rock critic, who guides William through the writer’s eternal dilemma: write the truth or keep your friends? The only possible exception is Noah Taylor who seems oddly out of place and has very little to do.

The film has impeccable rock credentials, with Peter Frampton serving as technical consultant, coaching the actors in the attitude of rock stars. He also has a small cameo in the film as the road manager for Humble Pie. Almost Famous is a film clearly made by a fan of rock music but one who is not blind to the faults of the people who make it. This is the first must- see film of 2001.