Almost Famous (2000)
“I am a Golden GOD!”
William Miller (Patrick Fugit) is on the verge of being a 15 year-old high school graduate when he gets the break of a lifetime. Rolling Stone Magazine sends him on tour with Stillwater, a rock band on the rise. While on tour he gets to know the band members, including lead singer Jeff Bebe (Jason Lee) and incendiary guitar hero Russell Hammond (Billy Crudup), as well as one of the famous band-aids, Penny Lane (Kate Hudson). All this, while getting advice from rock critic Lester Bangs (Philip Seymour Hoffman) and avoiding the wrath of his mother, Elaine (Frances McDormand). William learns that as a burgeoning talent, he may be a little too influenced by the people around him to be an objective reporter. Note: This article is referencing the theatrical version, but I will comment on Untitled, the Bootleg Version as well.
Why We Love It
As a fan of Jerry Maguire, Say Anything…, and Cameron Crowe’s script from Fast Times at Ridgmont High, I was fervently looking forward to his next film. Little did I know that Almost Famous wouldn’t just be his best film, but it was also an instant classic which will reside in my own personal ‘Top 5’ for the distant foreseeable future.
This movie has more heart, more laughs, and better acting than 98% of all films – plus, the soundtrack is kickass. Based partially on his time as a young rock journalist himself, you can tell that this film is very close to director Cameron Crowe’s heart. In fact, the band Stillwater is a collection of different events and personalities Crowe ran into while working for Rolling Stone. Crowe’s first tour with a band was with the Allman Brothers, with Greg Allman never fully trusting him the way Russell never trusts William in the movie. He nearly died in a plane crash while traveling with The Who and other moments are pulled from real-life encounters with The Eagles, Pearl Jam, and I’m sure many others.
We love this movie because every frame is a love affair. The scenes are full of references to album covers and moments from Crowe’s favorite movies. And you know what? Making the movie you were meant to make takes money. Almost Famous cost a pretty staggering $60 million, with one of the largest music budgets, $2 million, of all-time. For a movie with no big name stars, that’s a hell of an undertaking. It didn’t even make its budget back at the box office. It was critically praised and scored four Oscar nominations (a win for Crowe’s screenplay, nominations for Kate Hudson and Frances McDormand, and a nod for the film’s editing). But all of that doesn’t really matter. What matters is that Almost Famous is an enduring film which has only gotten better with age (which is something you can’t say about 2000’s Best Picture winner, Gladiator or Julia Roberts’ award-winning performance in Erin Brockovich).
This movie makes me nostalgic for a time I never even knew. It is for the ’70s what Dazed and Confused is or what American Graffiti was for the early ’60s. It completely immerses you in that environment and the characters’ actions, the soundtrack, and the tone of the film only help it.
Plus, like those movies, every character is likable. Well, maybe “likable” is a stretch, but “real” is a little more accurate. There are no poorly drawn characters in Almost Famous. Every character has a motivation and they’re all brought together by music. And it’s beautiful.
You can see the idealism and innocence in William and the irony when people refer to the rock journalist as “the enemy.” You can see the genius and ego dictating Russell’s actions, but also see his sense of duty and responsibility to his bandmates. Penny is not just a free-loving groupie, she’s more of a muse and her scenes of being carefree are some of the most moving in the film. Crowe’s favorite scene is when she’s dancing to Cat Stevens in the dirty auditorium. My favorite is when Penny overdoses on Qualuuds and later realizes on the plane that William told her he loved her as the beautiful Nancy Wilson score swells. Both are Hudson at her finest, and since Almost Famous she’s regrettably not been able to capture that magic again, but that’s just how it is: a perfect marriage of actor and character.
In addition to that, it really showed Crowe coming into his own as a director. We all knew he could write the hell out of a script, but what was surprising was how great Almost Famous looks. It’s a crime that he wasn’t nominated for his brilliant direction.
But more specifically, we love the singular moments that make this film special; those moments that transcend the screen and become, if I can be cliche and gushy for a moment, a part of us.
“Tiny Dancer.” Probably the most recognizable scene from the film. In order to break the tension after Russell threatens to quit the band, the whole bus joins together in a rousing sing-along of Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer.” It shows that despite their differences, in lieu of any heated confrontations or mistreatment of each other, they’ll always be drawn back to one another by music.
Frances McDormand. Even in scenes where she’s not featured, you can still feel her presence, like in the scene when the hotel maitre’d says “She’s a handful. She freaked me out,” when relaying a message to William. She’s absolutely hilarious in the scenes between her and Russell and just like all the other characters, she comes off as a real mom, who’s trying desperately not to drive away her son the same way she drove away her daughter.
Other than that there’s so much to love about this movie! Zooey Deschanel’s eyes, the confessions on the airplane, the teenage party in Topeka, Kansas, lines of dialogue like “The only true currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone else when you’re uncool,” or “If you ever get lonely, just go to the record store and visit your friends,” or “Look at this: an entire generation of Cinderellas and there’s no glass slipper,” or “I am a Golden God,” or “I’m the ‘you’ they get when they can’t get you” (which is my favorite line from Untitled that Jeff says to Russell near the end of the director’s cut).
Moment We Fell in Love
The hand-written opening credits are charming and were actually written by Cameron Crowe (I like it when he misspells Frances McDormand’s name). It just reminded me of when I used to make film’s as a teenager and the “credit sequences” would just be names written on a piece of paper. That’s what’s so refreshing about Almost Famous – It’s so personal that it’s basically like a Cameron Crowe Home Movie.
If you haven’t seen Almost Famous, I recommend the theatrical version over the director’s cut. There are some great moments in Untitled, but I feel like it’s definitely aimed at Cameron Crowe aficionados. I can’t think of another movie that makes me want to be a filmmaker more than Almost Famous. I think I was reading Newsweek one time before the film came out and their consensus on the film was “Almost Perfect.” Pretty apt.