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Almost Famous (2000)

November 16, 2009

8/10 Ultimate Senior Projects

Not as amazing as I initially remember it being, but still a great movie.

Almost Famous is about William Miller, an unpopular, endearing, and sheltered High Schooler who really digs music. After finding out that he’s two years younger than he always thought he was, he pitches a story to Rolling Stone about doing a piece on the up-and-coming band Stillwater, Rolling Stone is all about it, so this once-lame kid packs up his shit and hits the road with what eventually becomes one of the biggest bands in the country. Needless to say, it ends up being one groovy effing trip.

The story here is loosely based on writer/director Cameron Crowe’s own life and times on his journey from High School nerd to R.S. editor to Oscar-winning screenwriter, and with that, I once again tip my hat to Mr. Crowe. The only other person I can think of that might top him for having one of the coolest lives of all-time, or at least the coolest teen years of all-time, is Frank Abagnale, Jr. from Catch Me If You Can (great movie), only, you know, without all the jail time and whatnot.

But before I go any further, we gotta talk about the soundtrack. I didn’t really appreciate it as much the first time I heard the music in this movie, nor did I fully appreciate the actual soundtrack I got for my birthday that same year, but now that I’ve had a good long time to discover Led Zeppelin, The Allman Brothers (both of whom are the bands Stillwater is based on – fun fact!), and every other seminal classic rock band that are as much a part of this movie as its story and characters, I finally see what I’ve been missing. Screw Rock Band and Guitar Hero, Almost Famous is a true education in some of the greatest music ever put to vinyl along with what it means to actually love music.

Come on, like you didn’t sing along to the “Tiny Dancer” scene.

I think the reason I connected so much with this movie when I first saw it back in High School was because I could connect with William Miller and good lord did I want to be him. Nine years later, William Miller’s life remains unreal, but I’ve unfortunately come to the realization that Patrick Fugit isn’t a very good actor. Doesn’t show a whole lot of emotion, doesn’t do a very good job of convincing anyone that he’s serious when he’s trying to be, and is actually at his best when he lets everyone else do the talking. Probably explains why he hasn’t really landed any significant roles since, but still, what an awesome life.

Not the biggest fan of Jason Lee either, but everyone else is awesome. Billy Crudup is great as Stillwater’s lead guitarist, and even though I’m not all that keen on his real-life antics, he’s one cool mofo here and he sure does look the part, too. Also really like that Crowe made the lead guitarist the main focus of the band, ’cause isn’t the lead guitarist always the coolest one?

“Unfortunately, yes,” replies Aiden the drummer.

There’s also some great cameos by Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rainn Wilson, Jimmy Fallon, Fairuza Balk (where the hell did she go?), and Anna Paquin (not exactly great, but hey, she’s an Oscar-winner, dammit!). And big shout-out to Frances McDormand‘s hilarious turn as William’s outrageously overprotective mother. She should have won the Oscar for this one.

And lastly, there’s Kate Hudson as Penny Lane, the leader of Stillwater’s groupies – “The Band-Aids”. Among the many things people might remember this movie for, it continues to stand as the both the launching pad and single high point in Ms. Hudson’s unfortunate acting career. I don’t know if it’s a good idea to follow Cuba Gooding, Jr’s lead and keep to a strict diet of shitty role after shitty role after getting nominated for an Oscar, but maybe that’s just me. Still, Penny Lane is arguably the most interesting character in this whole movie and if Kate Hudson were to quit acting today, she’d go down in history for her performance here.

But I don’t know if it’s because I’ve seen this movie too many times or if it’s just because I knew what was coming, but the script isn’t as fantastic as it once was. The humor seems somewhat canned, so does the dialogue at times, and even though it’s better than any other script that was written in 2000, it didn’t have me grinning like an idiot like it used to. Not saying that Crowe didn’t deserve it, but some of the magic has been lost. But if you haven’t seen this movie before, completely disregard this paragraph, the magic was definitely there the first time around.

I’m just now realizing that I’ve used the word “great” a lot in this review, but the thing is that this movie reeks of it. I remember walking out of the theater the first time I saw this and announcing to the world that it was “MY FAVORITE MOVIE OF ALL-TIME!” I took that statement back a few hours later, but still, it was a big deal for me. Nonetheless, Almost Famous may very well be the best movie about music that I know of and even though it may have garnered a 9 out of 10 at another time in my life, it’ll always hold a place in my heart.

Now go out there and get that damn soundtrack.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. November 16, 2009 1:54 pm

    Have you seen the director’s cut? I bought the OOP DVD back in ’07, watched the theatrical cut and loved it, then put in the director’s cut and immediately declared what I had previously seen to be a hatchet job (which is still a great film if you’ve not had the opportunity to witness the “real” Almost Famous). I simply cannot stop loving that film, and I prefer it even to Say Anything…, which I still feel was one of the few high school movies that was wholly honest even though its characters were obviously limited to the realm of fiction. AF just captures all those feelings I felt right about the age of Crowe’s stand-in as I was suddenly consumed by a passion for music and specifically rock. Crowe is the only director who can make such a relentless sweet and shamelessly nostalgic film without ever slipping to the saccharine.

    If you haven’t seen the DC, I’d heartily recommend trying to track down a copy on eBay or Amazon Marketplace. Or, if you have a Blu-Ray, you can get the British Region-free BD. Crowe’s version is funnier, more touching, more coherent (not, of course, that that was a problem) and features even more perfect music choices.

    • November 16, 2009 2:21 pm

      The DC was actually one of the first DVDs I ever owned, which is pretty cool. I actually thought it went on a bit long, but the scene where they’re at the radio station and saying “Feces” on air with Kyle Gass was hilarious. Some day I’ll give it another look, and I think you might be right about it being better than Say Anything. Need to revisit that one, too.

  2. Branden permalink
    November 16, 2009 2:37 pm

    This is such a good film. I loved the soundtrack. I wish that Stillwater were a real band. “Fever Dog” kicks fucking ass.

    Kate was screwed out of the Oscar. I love Marcia Gay Harden, but come one. The original “band-aid” Penny Lane!

    • November 16, 2009 3:40 pm

      Yeah, she was phenomenal. I completely agree with Aiden that she seems to have fallen in the same trap that Cuba Gooding Jr. seemed to dig, where they just choose shit after shit. Every time I look at her IMDb profile to see upcoming stuff I just chant “Penny Lane” over and over to ward off the rest of her career.


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