Runtime: 2 Hours
and 2 Minutes
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
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 its way towards the runway. He cant 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 its content,
but rather because of how it is told. I dont think it is possible
to not get emotional during this scene, regardless of ones feelings
for the characters, due to the masterful way in which it is delivered
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. Williams 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 Williams interactions with this band that we will be
enjoying the majority of our stay. Its 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
I felt sadness at the conclusion of this film, because it was so good
and so much fun that I didnt want it to end. I cant 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 Williams 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 friends. Shes
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
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 doesnt need
to have the catchy Tarantino dialogue that pervades so many films
anymore. He doesnt 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.
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
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.