Thursday, May 7, 2015

Netflix Instant Queue Movie Review: "Almost Famous" (2000)

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Movie"Almost Famous"
Director: Cameron Crowe
Year: 2000
Rating: R
Running Time: 2 hours, 2 minutes

A young aspiring journalist named William Miller (Patrick Fugit) is hired to write an article for Rolling Stone magazine about an up and coming rock band called Stillwater. The 15-year old writer joins their tour and travels city to city with the band, experiencing their wild lifestyle.  

BigJ and I hadn't seen this film in quite some time, and watching it again was a real treat, especially for someone who is as obsessed with music as I am. In many ways, "Almost Famous" is a semi-autobiographical account of writer and director Cameron Crowe's days as a Rolling Stone journalist. The fictitious band Stillwater acts as an amalgam for the many different bands Crowe traveled with and wrote articles about during his younger years. What he created was really so much more. This film is also a coming-of-age story for the character of William, played expertly by Patrick Fugit. He is a 15-year old high school senior who has an overprotective but loving mother, portrayed by Frances McDormand, who has done her best to keep him safe from the temptations of life, especially since his music-obsessed older sister Anita, played by a very young Zooey Deschanel, skipped town the minute she turned 18 for a better, more interesting life. Because of this, William has an innocence about him, as well as an endearing and trusting heart, one that will get broken quickly if he's not careful. William, being far younger than his classmates, is not popular at all and doesn't have many (if any) friends. After getting an opportunity to write an article about a Black Sabbath concert for Lester Bangs, wonderfully performed by the late and very missed Philip Seymour Hoffman, William is turned away at the gate, but meets a group of "Band Aids," a term used for the groupies who are true fans of the music, and is quickly enamored with one who calls herself Penny Lane. Though he does not get to talk to Black Sabbath, he does get to speak with the opening band, Stillwater, and is quickly given the opportunity to tour with them, as well as the chance write for Rolling Stone magazine about the band and William's experience on tour with them. While on the tour, William and Penny Lane obviously have a lot of affection for one another, but Penny has, in the past, hooked up with Stillwater's married lead guitar player Russell Hammond, played devilishly charmingly by Billy Crudup. Penny is wise beyond her years and is a mix of both overly confident and childishly petty; she is a beautiful disaster. Penny is played excellently by Kate Hudson, and this role even earned her an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress. Jason Lee is Stillwater's boisterous and edgy lead singer Jeff Bebe, combative and in your face and always wanting to be in the front of the spotlight. William quickly learns that musicians and idols, though they seem infallible on the surface, are not so, and will break your heart the minute you don't agree with them. Each person in this tremendous cast comes together to create much more than just a semi-autobiographical film: they come together to create a movie-music experience.

Beyond their personal and interconnected stories, this film is about the music, rock 'n' roll in particular, the sex, drugs and heartbreak that come along with it, as well as the connection that music has to and in people. Since this film is partially based on a true story, Cameron Crowe used music from the time when he experienced these events, and it seems to include all the good stuff. It boasts a soundtrack of about 50 songs and is a wonderful treat for music fans, as well as film fans. There is a line towards the end of the film that says, "They don't even know what it is to be a fan, to truly love some silly little piece of music or some band so much that it hurts." This quote basically defines my personal relationship with music. Sure, when I was younger, I loved the Backstreet Boys so badly that it hurt, but this quote means so much more than a childhood crush on a Justin Bieber/Nick Carter/Jordan Knight/that guy from the Monkees type. Some people hear a tune or a catchy beat and like a song, which is all fine and dandy because music is the soundtrack to existence. Others use music to define specific moments in their lives, the good, the bad, the happy, and the sad songs that would make instances, memories and fragments in time pointless, or simply less, without them. It baffles me to hear that some people are not fans of music. How is that even possible?? What's not to love about music? Even down to the trashiest, silliest, awfullest song, music matters, and it is obvious that Crowe was impacted by the time he spent writing for Rolling Stone, if this movie is any indication.

Cameron Crowe managed to make yet another well-crafted, thought provoking, wonderful film in "Almost Famous" that has kept up with its stellar reputation though the passing years. There are many moving parts to this picture, and if you are a fan of either music or movies, you will absolutely love this film.

My Rating: 8.5/10
BigJ's Rating: 8/10
IMDB's Rating: 7.9/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 88%
Do we recommend this movie: Yes!
One year ago, we were watching: "The Muppets"

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