Summer 1976. A bright, rock-music obsessed 15-year-old called William Miller (Patrick Fugit) is asked to pen an article on Black Sabbath for Creem magazine by its most famous writer, Lester Bangs (Philip Seymour Hoffman). When Sabbath come to play in his hometown of Michigan, William tries and fails to get an interview, but does meet their support act, up-and-coming rockers Stillwater. A call from Rolling Stone leads to a commission for a lengthy profile on Stillwater, and soon William finds himself on the road with the band...
Cameron Crowe’s semi-autobiographical road movie has been criticised for its rose-tinted view of the rock n’ roll lifestyle – sure, there's some drugs, but nothing harder than a spot of acid, promiscuous sex is perfectly safe, while inter-band arguments are maturely resolved the next day. And rose-tinted it may be, but those films that focus on the seamier side of the music biz – The Doors, Sid & Nancy – are as equally prone to cliché, and taken as a piece of slick entertainment, Almost Famous works just fine.
This is the kind of story that reads like fiction, but it’s largely based on Crowe’s own life – he was indeed a paid-up rock journalist while still in his teens, and the late, great Lester Bangs did give him his first break. Patrick Fugit provides a disarming nativity, wide-eyed at this strange world where grown men get to act like kids. It’s only in a few of the more dramatic scenes towards the end that Fugit seems a little out of his depth, but there are touching relationships drawn between him and his protective mother (Frances McDormand) and Russell (Billy Crudup), Stillwater’s pin-up guitarist who emerges as an on-the-road father figure (William’s real father having died of a heart attack years earlier).
The real star of show is Kate Hudson, who was Oscar-nominated for her role as Penny Lane, the groupie (or ‘band aid’ as she and her girlfriends term themselves) who has fallen for the married Russell and is an object of desire for William. This strange triangle provides much of the film’s emotional core, and Hudson excels as the teen beauty who uses her relentlessly flirtatious party-girl front to hide a desperate loneliness.
Like Richard Linklater’s Dazed & Confused, that other great snapshot of mid-70s youth culture, much of the film is perfectly scored to the music of the era. Stillwater’s own music may be bog-standard blues rock, but it’s Led Zeppelin, Neil Young and Elton John that really create the film’s wistful, nostalgic mood, and the scene in which the entire tour bus sing along to the latter’s ‘Tiny Dancer’ is an unashamedly cheesy highlight.
While the film is tidily packaged into two hours, it’s well worth checking out the extended ‘bootleg’ version of the film that comes on the Region 1 DVD. Crowe added an extra half an hour that deepens the relationships between William, Russell and Penny, and adds a priceless scene in which Russell and Jeff (Jason Lee), Stillwater’s singer and Russell’s great rival in the band, get into a foul-mouthed argument during a radio interview while the chronically stoned DJ snores on, blissfully unaware.
American writer/director of mainstream comedy/drama. Crowe made his name as Rolling Stone magazine's youngest reporter during the 1970s, and scripted the energetic high school romp Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Made his directing debut in 1989 with the romantic comedy Say Anything..., followed by the grunge relationship movie Singles and the Tom Cruise-starrer Jerry Maguire. Almost Famous was Crowe's semi-autobiographical rock n' roll road movie, while Vanilla Sky, his remake of the Spanish Open Your Eyes, was an unusually arty Hollywood thriller. Crowe then went on to the disastrous, quirk-filled romance Elizabethtown, but his fans have faith in his recovery.