Movie Review By Casey McCabe
What American youth of the past quarter century wouldn't stand in raw envy of Cameron Crowe? When most other 15 years olds were bussing tables at Denny's in order to buy their concert tickets, Crowe was already a working journalist for Rolling Stone magazine, with a backstage pass to rock's most decadent era. At a ripe old 22, he still looked young enough to pass as a high-schooler, which he did for a year in order to write the seminal book and subsequent film "Fast Times at Ridgemont High." He goes on to marry the sexy lead guitarist of Heart and become the writer/director of critically acclaimed box office successes like "Jerry Maguire."
Now if you're looking for a reason to hate Cameron Crowe, you might be licking your lips over his latest film "Almost Famous." This is the one where the guy who can make any movie he wants decides it's finally time for his totally fabulous life story. But alas, Crowe maintains his maddeningly likable ways, and "Almost Famous" is as good and funny as it is true. Which is to say, mostly.
Crowe has a tendency not to root for the little guy or the big guy, but for the people in the teetering middle. Like Jerry Maguire was about the agent behind a second tier football star, "Almost Famous" is about one of rock's interchangeable warm-up acts, and the non-musicians who hitch a ride on their hopefully rising star. The film pits the writer's soul of 15 year old rock journalist William Miller against the goodhearted but empty headed fellows who make up the almost famous band, Stillwater. The light and rather predictable drama here being whether young Miller will write his cover story as a wide-eyed fan or hard-nosed reporter.
What remains unquestionable is that long-haired rock stars always get the girl, and that's really the crux of "Almost Famous." The girl is Penny Lane, a 16 year old groupie, or "band-aid" as they prefer to be called, who tutors Miller in the backstage life but spends her nights with Billy Crudup’s lead guitarist, Russell Hammond, a guy who would trade her body and soul for a case of Heineken. Crowe want us to believe that Hammond may actually love Penny. Young William Miller certainly does. In fact everyone loves Penny Lane, because as played by the utterly magnetic Kate Hudson, she is the one person you never want to leave the room.
Film newcomer Patrick Fugit plays William Miller with appropriate neophyte charm. Billy Crudup has some nice moments with his rock star, though he often seems to be coasting on his early-70s mustache alone. The film also features Frances McDormand as William's intellectual terror of a mother, and Philip Seymour Hoffman as the late, lamented rock critic Lester Bangs. The music plays a strong supporting role, as it does with virtually every coming of age movie. But Cameron Crowe was always older than his years, and "Almost Famous" is a gentle and forgiving look back at an era when maturity itself was often a frightening and avoidable thing. In this version no one gets seriously hurt. That may be one of the pieces Crowe is content to leave hanging between fact and fiction.
© 2000 - Casey McCabe - Air Date: 9/20/00
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