Almost Famous


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

Almost Famous
"Captures the seriousness and the sweetness perfectly"

Sex, drugs and rock and roll is such a cliche, when the real thing comes along, it's quite a shock. How do they know so much to do it right? The answer is that writer/director Cameron Crowe was there. Almost Famous might not advertise itself as the autobiography of a suburban Californian boy's rites of passage on the road with a burgeoning rock band in the early Seventies, but that's what it is.

He captures the seriousness and the sweetness perfectly. The idea that groupies are sex-crazed junkies has become part of the legend for years, even if it wasn't always true, as has the narcissistic guitar god, high on chicks and acid. In the Seventies, before Bowie and the glamrockers turned it into pantomime, the music scene was full of underfed, hard working guys who wrote songs on the bus or in motel rooms, rehearsed every day and honoured the history of rhythm-and-blues. They were less absorbed by the thrill of fame than a search for perfection.

Copy picture

Their world is seldom, if ever, portrayed on screen. Oliver Stone's The Doors was nothing to do with the music and everything to do with the lifestyle. In 1973, the magic was still there, the buzz of the live concert, the adrenaline rush coming off the interaction between performer and audience, the innocence at the heart of a fan base, the unconditional love created by the perfect riff and the beauty of it, mercurial and intense, like being licked by fire.

Crowe was raised in San Diego, as is his alterego in the film, William Miller (Patrick Fugit), by an overprotective mother (Frances McDormand), who considered Simon and Garfunkel subversive and issued strict instructions - "Call me. Twice a day" - if he ever left home. As a reaction, he collected the forbidden fruits of Sixties vinyl and started writing for teenage music magazines. At the age of 16, he was taken onto the staff of Rolling Stone.

Almost Famous tells of William's initiation into journalism and his adventures in the rock industry. He is adopted by Stillwater, the band he has been commissioned to write about, and travels with them on tour. By chance, he meets the legendary critic, Lester Bangs (another landmark cameo from Philip Seymour Hoffman), who gives him some advice ("Be honest and unmerciful"), warning him against too close an involvement with his subjects ("Friendship is the booze they feed you"). It does no good. William becomes hooked on these beautiful people.

Goldie Hawn's daughter, Kate Hudson, is getting all the attention right now. She's an attractive girl, who is wonderfully natural as the groupie with a heart of gold. Since she is married to a rock star in real life, this role can hardly have been a stretch. She's great, but she's probably great anyway.

Billy Crudup's performance is understated and superb. He plays the songwriter and leader of Stillwater, a gentle, confused, musically ambitious man, not entirely sure he digs the madness of a life that has less and less connection with reality. For young William, this is where it's at.

You know what he's saying.

Reviewed on: 30 Mar 2001
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Autobiography of a suburban Californian boy's rites of passage.
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Scott Macdonald *****

Director: Cameron Crowe

Writer: Cameron Crowe

Starring: Patrick Fugit, Billy Crudup, Frances McDormand, Kate Hudson, Jason Lee, Zooey Deschanel, Michael Angarano, Anna Paquin, Fairuza Balk, Noah Taylor, John Fedevich, Philip Seymour Hoffman

Year: 2000

Runtime: 122 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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