All My Movies: Almost Famous

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Almost Famous
Starring: Patrick Fugit, Billy Crudup
Costarring: Jason Lee, Kate Hudson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Frances McDormand, Zooey Deschanel, Jimmy Fallon, Fairuza Balk, Anna Paquin
Director: Cameron Crowe
Times Watched: About 4 or 5
Genre: Drama
Rotten Tomatoes / Metacritic: 88% / 90

The Road To Ownership: I wanted to buy American Beauty really badly (ironically, the next movie in my roster) and HMV had a twopack sale on - $20 for two movies. Almost Famous, which I knew my parents loved, was sandwiched in with AB.

The Plot: William Miller is perpetually uncool, in part because of his libertarian mom's socialist views, but also because he's crippled by being two years younger than his fellow classmates. When his sister gets fed up with their mom, she hits the road - but leaves William her record collection. Soon he unlocks the the key to coolness - if only internally - through his passion for music, and begins writing articles. A chance run-in with the band Stillwater while attempting to write about Black Sabbath launches his career as Rolling Stone asks him to write an article on the band, which involves him touring with them for awhile. Soon William is thrust into the crazy world of 1970s rock and roll, complete with groupies, drugs, and infighting.

The Good & The Bad: I find I enjoy this movie the more I watch it, but I still hold by my essay that Jerry Maguire is Cameron Crowe's best film. That being said, the hallmarks of what makes CC such a great writer/director/maestro of the cinema is well in play here. To wit:
- Fantastic casting. This is how you use an all-star cast to your advantage. Dress em up and reinvent them. Make them into the characters, not into a parade of celebs. Use character actors and make them special. Conveniently, also make fun of being rich & famous.
- Great soundtrack. Along with Zach Braff, Cameron Crowe should just produce mixtapes for me to make me happy. The soundtrack here is pure classic Americana rock - from Elton John and Simon and Garfunkel to Zeppelin and Bowie. Stillwater's tunes slip in seamlessly, as does Nancy Wilson's always impeccable scoring.
- Amazing vibe. The thing I appreciate MOST about Cameron Crowe films is the fact they don't fall into the classic pattern of beginning/middle/end. There are many downfalls and hardships for the characters, to the point where you almost ask yourself when is it going to end? HOW is it going to end? Happy or sad? Bittersweet?

Crowe's movies are first and foremost about the vibe, and he completely 100% successfully draws you into an authentic-feeling rock and roll scene through the eyes of a naive, uncool, bright-eyed wannabe journalist poser - a voyeur so hapless, yet someone we still feel jealous of compared to the blank-eyed shots of the fans that are farther removed from the action. A good CC film masters the art of vibe, and Almost Famous is perhaps Crowe's best film for it.

There are some problems with the film however. It gets a bit draggy and disorganized in the last third, although watching it this time around, I sort of appreciated that a bit more. If the film is truly meant to be wide-eyed William's story, the film is successful at sweeping you away in the mayhem and magic of rock and roll in the beginning, the good times. The last third of the film, in contrast, feels like a bit of a dragged out hangover, the sparkle lost (as it has been for William). Suddenly the myth is broken down and you feel a little lost as well.

Sometimes the film gets a bit over-exaggerated with its minor characters, but all of Crowe's films do that (Susan Sarandon in 'Elizabethtown' comes to mind). I also get really distracted by the fact that I still don't know to this day how old Penny Lane is supposed to be. Is Kate Hudson - who is perpetually frozen in time, making it harder to determine her age - playing with William? Or is she genuinely tour jailbait? I always felt like the Band Aids were around the 20-year-old mark. Old enough to feel like they created the rules of the road and had been allowed to leave their parents, but young enough to not know any better. I don't know, it always bothers me, because if you're going to cast a kid like Patrick Fugit, your other characters that are supposed to be his age better LOOK it.

I guess my problem with this film is that for as much as it gets right, for the length, I just want MORE. I want more resolution, more detail, more depth, more of everything. The movie just feels fragmented a bit in the end, and after the two hours and long emotional journey, I always feel, as I said, like I just came off a bit of a bender and am recuperating, and not entirely loving the investment I just put into watching the film (or to use my metaphor, getting hammed). Although I will say, this latest go-round provided a few casting Easter eggs. Namely, Rainn Wilson as a decked out Rolling Stone exec!

Best Scene: I kept on trying to figure this out as I watched the movie, and it was really hard. I like the actual acting in the plane scene, but the horrible FX of the whole thing bother me. I enjoy Jason Lee's t-shirt hissy fit but that's cause he's awesome. I like William's first entre into the world of rock & roll, backstage at his first Stillwater concert. I love the house party William and Russell attend. I enjoy pretty much every little bit from Rolling Stone. Gah. I'm going to go with the tee hissy fit. It's just a brilliant piece that lets you see more than a snippet of the loose ends amongst the members.

Worst Scene: The whole Penny/William bathroom/pee scene is just a big no. Same with the devirginizing melee right after.

Best Character: Jason Lee is my fave. He's a great actor, especially when playing the chip-on-his-shoulder frontman / villain (see: The Incredibles). I can't get enough of his self-serving shallowness in this movie, although I also miraculously sympathize with him. It's like Pete Wentz and Patrick Stump!

Worst Character
: Maybe it's the horrible hair they give him, or the fact I feel squeamish whenever they talk about his magazine, but I never liked Philip Seymour Hoffman's 'Lester Bangs' in this movie. He plays a good smarmy, holier-than-thou former loser, but given that I can't stand those dudes, he drives me nuts.

Soundtrack of our Lives: As said earlier, great soundtrack from the legendary Cameron Crowe. The music is used as both emotional cues, plot devices, and background filler in perfect harmony.

If You Like This You'll Like
: Any Cameron Crowe movie.



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