Almost Famous

Rated: R
Runtime: 2 Hours and 2 Minutes

Reviewer: Jones
Grade: A+

In every great film there is that one scene that, while watching it, makes you realize that you are watching something truly special. “2001: A Space Odyssey” has the “Jupiter and Beyond the Infinite” sequence. “Magnolia” has the “bedside scene” between Tom Cruise and Jason Robards. “Network” has all of those brilliant speeches. Now “Almost Famous” has given us the “airport scene”.

It is the sort of scene that makes one forget themselves and know of nothing else other than the movie. It is not a revolutionary scene. We have witnessed variations of it many times over the course of cinematic history. A girl is on a plane. A boy is in the airport watching the plane make it’s way towards the runway. He can’t stand the thought of losing her. He begins to run through the terminal, keeping pace with the plane so as not to lose sight of her. She presses her hand to the glass and watches him pursue her until he runs out of terminal and presses himself against the glass in an attempt to garner one last glimpse of his love flying away.
This scene is a defining moment not because of it’s content, but rather because of how it is told. I don’t think it is possible to not get emotional during this scene, regardless of one’s feelings for the characters, due to the masterful way in which it is delivered to us.
A film that tugs at our heartstrings is something truly special indeed and, with this scene, “Almost Famous” manages to do that and so much more.

“Almost Famous” is a rare film that, if I were asked to describe in one word, I would choose to define as “magical”. There is a surreal quality about this film that does not make itself readily apparent, but, regardless, is there just the same.

It is the story of William Miller (Patrick Fugit) and his desire to become a rock and roll journalist. We are allowed to share in his life, and the adventures it presents, for a summer unlike any other. We will meet his mother (played to perfection by Frances McDormand) who, despite her better judgment, allows her children to pursue their dreams. William’s journey will also treat us to a rare glimpse of an up-and-coming band on the cusp of stardom called Stillwater. It is in William’s interactions with this band that we will be enjoying the majority of our stay. It’s a stay that is filled with colorful characters ranging from band members Jeff (Jason Lee) and Russell (Billy Crudup) to “band-aid” Penny Lane (Kate Hudson).

I felt sadness at the conclusion of this film, because it was so good and so much fun that I didn’t want it to end. I can’t think of a much higher compliment to bestow upon it than that. That compliment is aimed directly at the inspired acting that is put on display by everyone involved. Everyone is great, but the one performance that stands out is that of Frances McDormand as William’s mother. She portrays a woman that all of us have come into contact with in our lives whether she be our own mother or a friend’s. She’s overprotective of her children, but that is because she loves them more than anything in the world. Frances breathes life into this woman and makes her that mother down the street that we always thought was cool even if she did tell us drugs were bad every time we stopped by. A beautiful performance that shines brightest amongst a plethora of great performances.

Billy Crudup and Jason Lee combine to make the band Stillwater come off the written page and become a living, breathing entity for two glorious hours of screen time. You can expect to see much more of these talented actors in the years to come. Patrick Fugit is the linchpin of the film as he is the courier of the story that we must live with for a couple of hours and he does a standout job. His performance depicts the coming of age of a young man in a world that is much more than he ever imagined it to be to perfection. Kate Hudson and Phillip Seymour Hoffman (as always) turn in solid performances to round out the cast.

Writer/director Cameron Crowe (“Jerry Maguire”) has done it again. He has taken events from his own life and turned them into a brilliant film that is loosely based on those events. Every character has a real feel to them that is typical of any Crowe film. The dialogue is the sort of thing that one would expect to hear under the given circumstances. He doesn’t need to have the catchy Tarantino dialogue that pervades so many films anymore. He doesn’t need it, because he allows the characters to make themselves. They leap off of the page and present themselves before his aptly placed camera. This is all it takes for that “magic” I spoke of earlier to take place.

“Almost Famous” is a truly original film, the likes of which you are not likely to ever see again. There are many reasons this is so, but first and foremost I would have to say is the “airport scene” which will lift you up and take you to a place you have never been before. A place where dreams are pursued and a little band named Stillwater is allowed to live in the fast lane, for a short time, on their way to becoming almost famous.

Reviewer: Dale
Grade: A+

A couple of years ago, there was this sweet little movie named "That Thing You Do". "That Thing You Do" was the story of a band that only had one hit and broke up due to frictions within the group. It was a nice little story, the directorial debut of Tom Hanks, in fact, and while it was not going to win any awards, it was worth seeing but, for the most part, ignored.
I only mention that movie to illustrate the greatness of this one. Whereas that was a sweet little movie, with some good acting by Liv Tyler and Tom Everett Scott (neither of which has since fulfilled on that movie's promise, this is a spectacular film that at no time seems fake or forced. Not one of the actors fails to breathe life into their roles. Not one moment seems to even have been scripted. It seems like a documentary, that is how authentic this movie is. It conjures up a time and place (places, actually) as if by time travel. It has the clothes, the mood, the hair and the speech down pat. Or so I would assume. I wasn't there. But it has to be just right. It is so real-feeling that you forget that you are watching actors. You forget that you are even in a theater.

For two glorious hours, Stillwater exists. Period. No ifs ands or buts. Jason Lee ceases to be Jason Lee in this film and, instead, becomes Jeff Bebe. He is Stillwater's lead singer. He is fairly talented and not bad on the eyes, and he is the lead singer. But he is being userped by Russell Hammond. Russell has more magnetism with the women, he has more talent musically, and he has a better looking groupie. Jeff knows it and he is jealous. Though, of course, he doesn't want to come right out and say it. That would make him a baby.

All this, and more, is seen through the eyes of William Miller (Patrick Fugit). William is a fifteen year old who has skipped ahead a few grades in school (only his mom knows exactly how many) and is the youngest kid in his class. He also writes articles for the school newspaper and for an underground paper on music. He sends letters to his idol in the industry, a man named Lester Bangs (the incomparable Philip Seymour Hoffman, acing yet another role: doesn't this guy ever suck? Guess not). Lester talks with the kid and finally gives him a gig writing a thousand words on Black Sabbath.

William never actually gets to meet Sabbath. Instead he meets and is intrigued by their opening act: Stillwater. He goes backstage, he gets into their confidences, he falls in love with one of their bewitching groupies (they prefer the term Band Aides) named Penny Lane (played to a T by Goldie Hawn's daughter: Kate Hudson), and he gets in way over his head.
As you may have guessed, "Almost Famous" is about music. It is about egos and friction and in-fights and squabbles over whose picture is pre-dominant on the band's T-shirts. It is about the way that a band fights amongst itself as much as a married couple, and spends as much time together. It is about the way that any bunch of human beings are going to get on each other's nerves if they travel across country in a bus together. Yet it is also about the good parts of music. It is about loving what you are doing. It's about making something wonderful out of thin air. It is about the way that a good song can involve you and make you feel all tingly inside. It is about every part of the music world. The good stuff, the bad stuff, everything. And it is miraculous.

It is funny. It is touching. It is sad. But it is above all involving. I liked how Frances McDormand played a realistic mother: a mother with rules and limits who still lets her kids follow their dreams no matter how much she disapproves because it is what they feel they must do. I liked how down to earth Patrick Fugit is as the lead character. I liked how the story of love unrequited between Penny Lane and William and Russell all played out. It all feels authentic. There are no "movie" touches here or, if there were, I certainly couldn't spot them. This is a bittersweet love letter of a movie about a man looking fondly on his past (Cameron Crowe started out young as a reporter for Rolling Stone and Lester Bangs is a real person) and realizing just how lucky he was to experience it. But it is not seen through rose colored glasses. It is laid bare and presented warts and all.

Cameron Crowe has seriously outdone himself with "Almost Famous". The least you can do is see it.