This is my contribution to Round 2 of the Future Classic Movies Blogathon. To see the rest of the entries check out Paula’s Cinematic Club here.
Films fans the world over say they have films that define them or that came at a seminal time in their lives. For me, that honor goes to the 2000 Cameron Crowe film Almost Famous, a movie that defined my taste in music, filmmaking, and life in general. Almost Famous is a fun romp through adolescence and rock n’ roll that came about at just the right time in film history and my life. I consider it a classic in that it has all the things I expect in a classic: a timeless quality, an impeccable cast and story, and the ability to watch it at any time. Let’s delve a bit more into Almost Famous!
Almost Famous is based on director Cameron Crowe’s own life story as a teenage reporter for Rolling Stone magazine in the 1970s. The film tells the tale of William Miller (Patrick Fugit), a gifted teenager whose a bit of an outcast. He gets asked by Rolling Stone to go to an interview on fictional band Stillwater. Stillwater are poised to be huge but have issues with the competing egos of leading singer Jeff (Jason Lee) and guitarist Russell (Billy Crudup). As William becomes more enmeshed in the rock and roll lifestyle and comes to like the band as people, he also develops a crush on
groupie “Band-Aid” Penny Lane (Kate Hudson) who, herself, is in love with Russell.
I mentioned rewatchability as a factor in any classic and it applies to this film. If Almost Famous is on I will stop what I’m doing and devote my full attention until it’s over, even if it’s on TNT and filled with commercials. Almost Famous is also one the few films that boasts an even better Director’s Cut which I also own and watch repeatedly. I didn’t see this film until DVD a few years later as a freshman in high school and fell in love with it. The story of William connected to me. He’s incredibly intelligent and yet he finds it hard to relate to people because he’s so smart. That and he likes hard rock music that most of the kids in his school don’t. He gets to live the dream of a Rolling Stone reporter and live the rock life of the 1970s! I mean this is a time where groupies weren’t just slutty girls but women who “inspire the music.”
Speaking of Penny Lane, Kate Hudson remember when you made amazing movies? Penny Lane is our tragic heroine and her relationship with Russell Hammond isn’t cheap or tawdry. She genuinely loves him, idolizes him as this rock god who and her his muse. Hudson and Crudup radiate chemistry throughout this film and you just want to punch him for not understanding how amazing she is. The music and the band are symbiotic and as the film progresses and the groupies become women who just care about sex it does become cheap and tawdry. As a character says towards the end, these new types of fans don’t understand what it’s like to devote their life to a piece of music “so much…that it hurts.” Crowe said he wrote Penny Lane based on famous groupie Pamela Des Barres (I highly recommend the various memoirs she’s written). Lane knows the rock world and is a member of the club. When she enters a hotel room all eyes are on her and yet she’s the loneliest person in the world.
The rest of the cast is equally amazing. Patrick Fugit is loveable and adorable as William. This movie is essentially the story of a boy joining the circus (there’s even mention of the rock star lifestyle being a circus and that “nobody wants to go home”). He tries so hard not to get wrapped up in liking the band as friends and yet he can’t help it. Billy Crudup, Jason Lee, and the rest of the band members are hilarious and complex. They have a chemistry you see in many bands that have been together for a while (Crowe supposedly based Stillwater on Led Zeppelin). When the group discovers their t-shirt is just Russell it’s hilariously petty but says everything about what the group has had to endure: that Russell has become the identifying symbol of the group.
There’s so many great scenes and I generally don’t discuss favorite scenes but considering I view Almost Famous as a classic, I’m going for it. My favorite scene (and I’ve written many a paper on it) has to be the moment where the band sings “Tiny Dancer.” It’s just come at a pivotal moment when the band has decided to break-up and as their all sitting on the bus they start singing Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer.” It’s a beautifully shot moment but it also reminds them of why they came together in the first place. No matter what happens, they’re bound by their love of music and they always will be. The final line of the scene, Penny telling William he is home is such a gorgeous line too. An outcast has finally found his place in the world, and much like Stillwater’s love of music, he can’t escape it. I’ve included the scene for you above.
Another completely different moment has to be towards the end when the band believes their plane is going to crash and they start confessing their sins. It’s hilarious to us because we’re not on the plane plummeting to certain death, but it shows that none of the band can be pious and self-righteous; the rock and roll lifestyle isn’t for the pure of heart (like William). And when the group discovers they’re not going to die, the look of horror on their faces is priceless. At this point it’s easy to see they all wished the plane had crashed. Taking into account many of the bands that have died in plane crashes this scene makes you wonder what everyone’s final words were? Did they all have something profound to say in their final moments, or did they go down bickering and talking about how much they hated each other? Crowe gives us his take on a rock legends final moments and it’s a great moment of comedic bliss. I’ve also included it for you above.
Almost Famous is a perfect film. You could tell me there’s something wrong with it and argue that it’s not true. I’ve come to love the 60s-70s as evidenced by the rock docs and similar movies I’ve covered (especially the ones centered on music) and it’s all because of Almost Famous. The movie is comedic, dramatic, has a stellar soundtrack, and hits everyone where they live. There’s not one moment in this movie that isn’t relatable to someone. Go see it and then go buy it. If you can go buy the Blu-Ray Director’s Cut that goes by the film’s original title Untitled.
A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.