Are You With Us?: Almost Famous
By Ryan Mazie
October 21, 2010
Everybody has a movie they feel was especially made for them - as if some studio executive picked your brain for what you would want in a movie and then inserted you as the main character. For me, that movie was Almost Famous.
Recommended by friends for the longest time, I finally added Almost Famous onto my Netflix queue list around the start of my freshman year in high school. The red envelope sat on my counter for, according to my Netflix rental history, nearly two months. I wanted to punch myself for not watching it sooner. I never have seen a movie that appealed to me so much on a personal, critical, and entertaining level.
Almost Famous balances the line between tear-jerking drama and laugh-so-hard-you-cry comedy set against the music of the late 1960s and ‘70s. Feeling as if the whopping 50-song soundtrack throughout the film might have alienated me, it could not have been further from the truth. With his directing and writing prowess, Cameron Crowe brings to life the wild and loose '70s, filled with leather, vinyl, and Rock ‘n Roll. The story focuses on 15-year-old William Miller (Patrick Fugit), a music junkie, wanting to fly the coop, living under the same roof as his overbearing single Christian mother (Frances McDormand).
Receiving the opportunity from Lester Bangs (the always worthy Philip Seymour Hoffman), a local Rolling Stone rock journalist, to cover a Black Sabbath show, through luck and chance William ends up befriending their opening act, Stillwater. Offered the opportunity to hit the road with the up-and-coming rock band for a Rolling Stone cover story, after much worry from his mother about missing school and his safety, William embarks on a once in a lifetime journey with the dysfunctional band.
I love the concept of celebrity. Picking up a People magazine, watching the E! Network, or scrolling through TMZ.com gives me a thrill. At around the same age of William in the movie, I got my first taste of journalism and meeting fame. I began writing movie reviews and celebrity interviews for a teen section of South Jersey’s regional newspaper, the Courier Post. Now, three Oscar-winning directors, a former president, a late-night talk show host/author, and dozens of actors and actresses later, I still get that giddy feeling of meeting someone in the industry that I love so much and desire to be a part of. And Fugit nails that feeling perfectly.
After a nationwide casting call, Cameron Crowe picked the unknown Fugit for his first feature role. Balancing professionalism and teenage insecurity, feeling like an outsider in the fast-paced Rock 'n’ Roll world he loves so much, Fugit feels realistic and not wise beyond his years like most child actors. That is in part a testament to Crowe’s fantastic writing that earned him an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay.
A former Rolling Stone writer himself, this partly autobiographical film has an undeniable personal touch, making this Crowe’s finest work so far. Coming hot off the heels of his blockbuster Jerry Maguire, Cameron proved he wasn’t a one-trick pony. Showing that you don’t need to use a handheld camera to give a film an intimate feel, I truly felt like I was on the tour bus with Stillwater and the groupies. Rock 'n’ Roll was glamorous and seemingly untouchable, but pulling back the curtain, Crowe creates more than memorable moments about the downside of fame. The best example is when lead guitarist and egotist Russell (Billy Crudup) trades the band’s groupies, “The Band-Aides” (a ditzy Anna Paquin, Fairuza Balk, and their wise but aging leader Kate Hudson) to another band for $50 and a case of Heineken. A devastating conversation that follows with Crudup and Hudson is definitely what earned Hudson her Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination. Winning at the Golden Globes, Kate proved her place in Hollywood, giving her career a major boost.