April 2003
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Movie Review: Almost Famous
By: Casey W., Grade 12, Fredericton High, Fredericton, NB

Almost Famous

Cameron Crowe

DreamWorks (2000)

"Almost Famous" is an original coming of age film set in 1973 about 15 year old earnest William, who lives with his sister (Zooey Deschanel) and his overprotective mother (Frances McDormand) who won't allow rock and roll in her house. When Anita, his sister, escapes the confines of the house by becoming a stewardess she leaves William her rock LPs and tells him that they will set him free. William soon begins writing about this band for his school and then convinces Creem's premier rock critic Lester Bangs (Philip Hoffman) to let him cover a Black Sabbath concert. It is at the concert that William meets the lovely Penny Lane (Kate Hudson) and her friends Sapphire (Fairuza Banks) and Polexia (Anna Paquin). They form the Band-Aids as opposed to groupies- these girls are here for the music. It is also at this concert that William meets the bad Stillwater, a band rising from obscurity that he will write a story about for Rolling Stone magazine. The band includes guitarist Russell Hammond (Billy Crudup) and lead singer Jeff Bebe (Jason Lee).

William's innocence is threatened as he joins their band on tour and is thrown into the midst of the life of a 70s rock band-having to chase Russell while on a bad acid trip and being deflowered by the Band-Aids. William, the kid who has never been cool, becomes intoxicated by the attention, acceptance and the seemingly friendship that the band feeds him. He realizes he is losing his objectivity as a journalist and spends countless hours assessing the situation to regain his authority as a journalist which is also in part being hampered by Penny Lane's ongoing and time consuming affair with guitarist Russel.

Cameron Crowe, rock journalist turned film maker, captures the story with such poignancy by drawing on his own adolescence. Crowe, like William, was fifteen when he hustled his first assignment from Rolling Stone. Crowe loosely bases his film on his travels with bands such as Led Zeppelin and the Allman Brothers.

The soundtrack to the movie is a mix of classical 70s rock hits including songs by Simon and Garfunkle, The Who and, Elton John. The soundtrack is also supplemented by original songs from the made up band still water- written by Crowe himself with help of his wife.

Frances McDormand, William's neurotic mother's fixation with smoking pot provides the movie with humour while at the same time being able to portray the mother as a lovable character who just wants to protect her boy.

Similarly the scene stealing Lester Bangs provides the movie with some of its most memorable dialogue including his talk with William on the industry of cool - during which he remarks that people like he and William will never be cool and that good-looking people have no spines. Kate Hudson also does an excellent job in her role as Penny Lane- the audience cannot help but feel sorry for this young girl who has sold her soul to rock and roll (and Russel Hammond) only to have her vitality momentarily crushed by the band's indifferent attitude towards her. The earnest face of newcomer Patrick Fugit is perfect for William's wide-eyed and innocent character. The band really a one man talent show-played by Billy Crudup and Jason Lee are also remarkably believable displaying just the right amount of nonchalance and egotism.

At one point in the movie Lester, who is depicted as a mentor to William, calls William 'too sweet for rock and roll'. This statement captures the essence of the movie - holding on to hope, faith and idealism even as the harsh realities of the adult world diminish the power of this adolescent magical thinking. This film is not only entertaining, it captures a pivotal time in the history of rock and roll.


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