Almost Famous Reviews
Wasn't entirely in love with the 3rd act, but writer-director Cameron Crowe manages to make it work.
Taking audiences back to the glory of a superior age in music history, Almost Famous' story occurs deep within the rock n' roll scene of the 1970's. While providing viewers with a nostalgic time period as the central backdrop, Almost Famous simultaneously functions as a compelling coming-of-age story and a glorious spectacle of rock n' roll. Audiences are given an insight into a protagonist learning what it is to become a man and his discovery of what lies inside the music scene.
There are a lot of characters in Almost Famous, but it always comes back to the two main figures. This is William Miller and Penny Lane, a couple who share a really confusing relationship. There is no telling what direction it is developing towards in or what the implications of their interactions infers, taking audiences on an unpredictable ride. The confusion the audience feels does not come from a convoluted narrative; it comes from a story which is written and directed with such finesse that the viewer is able to see it all through the eyes of the protagonist. The confusion audiences get in attempting to understand or predict where things are going gives them a perspective on what it is to fall in love. William Miller goes through his own coming of age experience over the course of the narrative which is a supporting theme in the story, and the confusing emotions he has to face as he grows closer to adulthood make him a really compelling character. The fact that Cameron Crower's screenplay hits this note with such perfection just goes to show how much of a personal piece the film is for him. Almost Famous is a deeply insightful and moving film which is extremely rich in characterization, and this stretches beyond the main characters.
Rather than simply pumping the narrative with sex and drugs, Almost Famous uses these as an afterthought in a story which really humanizes its music stars. We don't just see the party; we see the people who are partying. Almost Famous shows the inner machinations of the fictional band Stillwater and examines the brotherhood and conflict of them. We learn of their relationships with each other and what it is to be a rock star through a story which directly asks them. There are a lot of characters to keep up with and even with the slow pace of the film and extensive running time it still remains a challenge to track it all, but with such vibrant energy in the dialogue the film proves worthy of its weight.
And in capturing the glitz and glam of its time setting, Almost Famous utilizes a very effective visual style. The cinematography maintains a mix of elements from a 70's film and a music video which supports the timeframe and themes of the narrative. The scenery is appealing and the colour scheme captures a somewhat hypnotic mood at times, but the real stylish glory can be credited to the soundtrack. I didn't know what to expect from Almost Famous as a whole, but the fact that this precise subject matter snagged me at a time when I was getting deep into the 70's is just perfect. Given that my contemporary obsession rests on the song "Simple Man" by Lynyrd Skynyrd which was featured on the soundtrack to Almost Famous, there is clearly no better time for me to be viewing such a film. The entire soundtrack to Almost Famous is a remarkable testament to a pinnacle era in music history which uses many classics without playing the overused ones, mixing it up with a strong collection of great bands and musicians contributing to create an awesome atmosphere.
And with such powerful backing, the cast in Almost Famous contribute some strong performances.
Patrick Fugit makes a perfect lead in Almost Famous. Portraying William Miller who is intentionally based on writer-director Cameron Crowe himself, Patrick Fugit captures the perfect state of mind for his character. Balancing his determination to prove journalistic brilliance with his confusion that comes with growing up and saying farewell to his childhood innocence, Patrick Fugit captures an ambitious young character who audiences can easily sympathise with. His is often stoic as he watches the world around him change, and the subtlest developments in his facial expressions say everything that the character needs to without him having to actually say the words. The young boy interacts with a colourful collection of characters and always does it in such a sophisticated manner that it does many favours for the development of his character, keeping him an enticing central subject for the film. Patrick Fugit's constant sense of curiosity provides audiences with someone to join in their plight to discover the world of rock n' roll, and the way he develops as his character grows up over the course of the story is steadily paced and entertaining. Patrick Fugit provides a perfect portrait of the ambitious youth that Cameron Crowe once was.
Billie Crudup makes for a perfect fit as Russell Hammond. His characterization of the rock star stands out not for his party nature, but for his chemistry with Patrick Fugit. While William Miller is a man with a lot to learn, Russell Hammond is a man with a lot to say which he does with a real genuine feeling to him. His interactions with Kate Hudson constantly feel like a real emotional conflict, but the scenes where William Miller attempts to look inside the man are the real finest moments. He constantly has a barrier up, yet at the same time he is able to speak insightful wisdom which says so much while still hiding so much. Billie Crudup makes Russell Hammond a character audiences really want to discover the secrets of, and his genuine passion is very strong.
Kate Hudson also brings in a fine supporting performance. With rich confidence and a constant sense of mystery about her, Kate Hudson makes a commanding presence which is executed with hypnotic subtlety. She seduces audiences into falling in love with her elusive nature in the same way she does for the protagonist, and it is done through capturing a really spaced-out state of mind which makes her seem as if she is on another planet. Kate Hudson has a constantly sly nature about her and is never predictable, successfully emphasising that Penny Lane is a legend of sorts. There are select moments in the film where she displays a greater variety of emotion for brief periods, and these keep audiences enticed through reminding them of the human that lies beneath. Kate Hudson is a mysterious presence in Almost Famous, and her dedication to the role is nothing short of tenacious.
Frances McDormand lends some hilarious support. Long a talented performer in the art of comedy, Frances McDormand's portrayal of the overbearing square mother to William Miller is perfect at every time. Being the single-handed representation of the generation gap in the story, Frances McDormand plays the role with such genuine passion to find drama in it that the result is effectively hilarious. Her performance is largely a dramatic one yet the context of the story makes her a source of comic relief, and she displays an effective talent at doing it. Frances McDormand's clever transcendence of a character that constantly has risk of becoming an archetype makes her far more than a simple side character even though her relevance to the overall narrative is rather minuscule.
Jason Lee brings a passionate supporting performance in, and both Fairuza Balk and Phillip Seymour Hoffman make a stamp with their manic energy. Rainn Wilson is also a nostalgic presence when considering his later success on The Office (2005-2013).
Almost Famous has a lot of ambition which stretches out over a long running time, but the brilliant dialogue ensures that the pacing supports the actors in delivering some brilliant performances that make this coming of age throwback to the 1970's a truly groovy film.
definitely is a must see in every way
All of these elements create a very warm film that is surprisingly human in its approach. The sound track is also very strong and paired well with each scene. One scene was particularly memorable: a simple sing-a-long on a bus against the back drop of a classic song. Most people have at least one strong memory of this simple true Americana pleasure from their childhood and this scene taps into that emotion.
This was, in my humble opinion, Cameron Crowe's last really strong movie after a number of hits (including Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Say Anything and Singles). These movies all share a common bond in that they were crafted with care, attention and a sharp eye for detail creating engrossing time capsules of these time periods (or places) and the social relationships of the characters.
My small critique of this film, and most of Crowe's work, is that he can be heavy handed with the sitcom one-liners. While some of these lines pay off really well, others are a bit jarring.