“So, Russell, what do you love about music?”
“To begin with…everything.”
Almost Famous is the semi-autobiographical coming-of-age film by Cameron Crowe set in the early 1970s. In the words of Lester Bangs, editor of Creem magazine and perpetual pessimist, “rock music is dead”, and aspiring rock journalist William Miller (Patrick Fugit) is thrust into the ‘death rattle’ after he meets up and coming band Stillwater and their enigmatic lead guitarist Russell Hammond (Billy Crudup) and a band of groupies called the Band Aids, led by beautiful and mysterious Penny Lane (Kate Hudson). After he tricks Rolling Stone into believing he’s a thirty something professional, he joins the band on tour and experiences the highs and lows of their burgeoning fame, much to the chagrin of his controlling mother (Frances McDormand), who struggles to maintain her relationship with her children.
The two closing lines of the film mentioned above sum up the film in its entirety. Partially based on Crowe’s experiences writing for Rolling Stone in his teens and interviewing bands such as The Allman Brothers and Led Zeppelin, the love of rock and the 70s shines through the film at every opportunity. It’s production design, costuming and all-round ambience screams 70s and makes it very easy to lose yourself in the time period and be swept away by the story – which is a damn good one, and fondly reminds you of the time when Crowe wrote a decent movie (no, We Bought a Zoo does not fall into this category). In the words of Lester Bangs, it’s “honest and un-merciful”. It’s portrayal of the rock culture is poignant and an interesting insight into the world of rock and roll. Many real-life rock journalists are portrayed in the film, such as Bangs, and Rolling Stone elite Ben Fong-Torres and Jann Wenner.
The performances are charming, touching, heartbreaking and funny. Crudup is solid as always, Fugit’s naïveté is charming and his emotional delivery flawless and McDormand is faultless as per usual. Jason Lee, Noah Taylor, Zooey Deschanel and Phillip Seymour Hoffman give great supporting performances. The film, however, belongs to Kate Hudson. She portrays Penny Lane with such grace, effervescence, wisdom and charm, and steals every scene she’s in. She and Fugit have a believable and beautiful friendship, and it’s disappointing that she’s been in so many forgettable movies as of late because this film proves that she can act.
Great script, great performances, great production design and great directing: this film doesn’t get half the credit or love that it should. It will make you want to bend the laws of time and space and head back to a time where rock stars were Gods, facial hair was rampant and trashing a hotel room was a totally normal thing to do. Either that, or you’ll want to scream “I AM A GOLDEN GOD!” from a rooftop. You’ll want to listen to Tommy with a candle burning so you can see your future. Most of all, you’ll want to sing Tiny Dancer at the top of your lungs. And for those reasons, and many more, Almost Famous remains one of my favourite movies of all time.