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|March 9, 2001||
Almost Famous is a rewind to an era when rock was a religion and a cult. It is about the joy, the volatility, the pure exhilaration of screaming guitars and throbbing drums.
Director Cameron Crowe (Jerry Macguire) gives us a fictionalised account of his previous career as a reporter for Rolling Stone (he was the youngest they had ever hired), and the film plays like a song.
The year is 1973 and 15-year-old William Miller (fresh-faced Patrick Fugit) is inspired by Crowe's real-life mentor rock critic Lester Bangs (Phillip Seymour Hoffman). So William manages to hide his age and convince the Rolling Stone editors to send him out on the road with the (fictional) rock band, Stillwater.
His widowed mom (Frances McDormand), a college psychology professor and a Nazi disciplinarian of sorts is terrified by the thought of losing her son to drugs and free sex but lets go nonetheless.
The trip is about William's rites of passage as both a writer and an adolescent. He falls head over heels in love with Penny Lane (Kate Hudson), a groupie in love with Stillwater's lead guitarist, the talented but spineless Russell (Billy Crudup).
To Russell, of course, Penny is just one more in the long list of willing fans.
After weeks on the road and frantic phone calls from home, William finally faces his own moment of truth. Does he write about what he knows or does he write about what the band wants the world to know? Should he be true to his newfound friends or his profession?
The wild assortment of characters makes the film eminently watchable. Young Patrick Fugit makes an incredible debut and actually appears to be growing up with each passing experience in the film. He expertly combines wistful watchfulness and vulnerable innocence.
Hudson (the daughter of actress Goldie Hawn) establishes her stardom by breathing life, love and bitter heartbreak into the character of Penny Lane. Crudup blends cockiness with a practical outlook typical of a celebrity in the making, and comes up with a terrific performance.
The Oscar-winning McDormand (for Fargo) provides most of the film's humour as the fiercely protective mother who scares hotel managers and rock musicians.
What comes through in the film is passion, in this case, for music. A passion that unites an unlikely group of people and keeps them there. There is a particularly heartwarming moment in the film when a fight among the band members is wondrously resolved when they start singing along with Elton John's Tiny Dancer.
Almost Famous succeeds because it creates characters that defy a single, unidimensional definition. If there's a single person the film belongs to, it is none other than Crowe.
He has come up with a film that is candidly funny, quietly critical and heartwarmingly enjoyable.
It is a film in complete sync with the people in it and the people watching it.
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