Saturday, April 9, 2011

Something to Crowe About: "Almost Famous" (2000)

Based on writer/director Cameron Crowe's experiences as a teenage music journalist, "Almost Famous" is one of the best rock and roll films ever made.

Patrick Fugit is William Miller, a budding writer who is sent on an article assignment by a Rolling Stone magazine editor who thinks he is much older. Fugit meets up with the fictional band Stillwater, and immediately falls for one of the band's groupies (they call themselves "band aids"), played by Kate Hudson, who looks and sounds just like her mom- Goldie Hawn. As the band tours, and does all the rock star decadence, Fugit's mother waits and worries back home. Frances McDormand is absolutely perfect as a mother who thinks she is very liberal and free thinking, but still worries for her child's welfare.

The band eventually welcome Fugit into their inner circle, and the conflict between lead singer Jason Lee and charismatic guitarist Billy Crudup. A running gag involves Fugit's complete inability to get Crudup to sit down to an interview. Philip Seymour Hoffman is also wonderful as the late great Lester Bangs, the rock critic who is now worshiped by critics everywhere (even though all he ever did, that was different from others, was be completely honest). Hoffman warns Fugit never to befriend the band, something Fugit cannot help.

As the band makes its way across the country, Fugit gets pressure from Rolling Stone, horny groupies, and his mother. If I had a nickel for everytime that happened to me...I'd still be broke. As Fugit falls in love with Hudson, she is rejected and treated like an object by the band and Crudup (who sell the "band aids" to Humble Pie, a fate worse than death). As Fugit gets his story written, the band turns on him because he is completely honest and exposes them- warts and all. The ending features Fugit, and his angry sister, returning home, and Crudup having a mea culpa with the two people he has hurt the most during the tour.

I usually have no sympathy for musicians and celebrities who complain and give into the temptations and trappings of the road and too much money. Stand outside my front door, and you can hear me yelling at such television shows as VH1's "Behind the Music" and the "E! True Hollywood Story." You will discern me muttering bon mots such as "well, maybe you should have put the crack pipe down" and "who held the gun to your head when you snorted ten kilos of coke?" Cameron Crowe does not excuse the bad behavior here, he shows how it is expected of the band. They are a rock band and must behave like animals, and party, and have groupies. Crowe makes the band so likable, and real, I could not help but keep watching them.

The entire cast here is excellent. There is not one false line or stilted performance to be found. Fugit, for being a newcomer, is especially good. Crowe does a great job directing, not falling into the usual rock film trappings. The concert scenes give the viewer a sense of time, place, and music, and are short enough not to bore. Joe Hutshing and Saar Klein should have won Oscars for editing, keeping the pace flowing smoothly but never showing off.

I think this film flopped at the box office because the studio did not know how to market it. Who wants to see another movie about how hard stardom is? Instead, this is a sweet, funny comedy.

McDormand's telephone conversation with Crudup, and the plane scene where everyone confesses their deepest secrets, are two of the finest pieces of writing EVER, not just in the film.

I put off watching "Almost Famous" for too long, I hope you do not make the same mistake. (* * * * *) out of five stars.