Film Reviews

ALMOST FAMOUS

By • Sep 10th, 2000 •

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Columbia Pictures / 122 minutes

The film hasn’t even opened yet and already I know I’m the lone voice against it

God has truly blessed Cameron Crowe. I know this because Crowe is one of the few people in the world who can nostalgically look back on their teenage years and not see personal misery and suffering. And to top off his luck, he was a fifteen-year-old writer for Rolling Stone magazine.

And given writing assignments that meant traveling with rock bands.

ALMOST FAMOUS was called “semi-autobiographical,” until early buzz anointed it a hit. Now its 97% autobiographical. Oh boy! This means rock looked like this in the early 70’s. The dominant drug-of-choice was pot (which Crowe never touched), Crowe always called his obsessed mom, and he lost his virginity “cute.” Crowe never saw anything in music that would lead to the deaths of Janis Joplin, Brian Jones, and Jimmy Hendrix. The band Crowe traveled with (the fictional band Stillwater) got into a fight about T-shirts, not ugly disputes over control, contracts, or fame.

If this was rock in the seventies, we didn’t miss a thing but love.

Crowe’s alter ego (William Miller, played by Patrick Fugit) is so fresh-faced, na·ve, and pure of heart and body that I wondered how he ever got mixed up with music in the first place. No matter, this is not the world of VH1’s BEHIND THE MUSIC. So, Crowe could easily have been placed on The Brady Bunch bus. This is how much insight into backstage life I got from watching ALMOST FAMOUS. Miller spends the entire movie trying to get an interview out of the band members he is tagging along after. He’s the guy from Rolling Stone, but the band doesn’t care. They are NOT deferential to him, even if there is the possibility of “The Cover.” Managers, agents, promoters, publicists, producers – was Crowe a writer before all of these people got involved in the music business?

The child-angel of the movie is super-groupie Penny Lane (played by Kate Hudson). Hudson instantly became a star due to DNA and the hard years her mother put into her Hollywood career. And Hudson’s face is the poster for ALMOST FAMOUS. This will be THE negotiating stick for guaranteed instant stardom. Now, all Hudson has got to do is show up and learn to act. (Though, we acknowledge, acting has never been a diehard requirement in star-making careers. But I have the nagging impression that Kate already considers herself an actress).

Here, in Hudson’s performance, “Look pretty” is an emotion. Her halo of blond curls signal her purpose: to be the object of desire for the virgin reporter who hasn’t reached puberty yet. She even has the requisite angel-fairy scene where she dances, ballet step-style, in an empty parking lot. Penny Lane knows the writer-kid is in love with her, but she belongs to the budding star guitarist, who has a perfectly normal, no-nonsense girlfriend back home. She’s a groupie with a heart of gold, not treacherous self-interest! But Crowe/Miller really is in love with guitarist Russell Hammond (played by Billy Crudup) himself. The only drug backstage is unrequited love! Crudup has got the sexy rock star nonchalance thing down pat. Unfortunately, I came away not knowing much about any of these characters.

Maybe this is what rock life was really like since, incredibly, Crowe’s wife is Nancy Wilson of Heart. Surely Wilson would have clued Crowe in if there had been an ugly side to the rock business.

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