For a movie that calls itself Almost Famous, this one ironically seems to have
become one of the really famous ones, what with the Oscar for the Best Original
Screenplay and nominations for the Best Supporting Actress and Best Film Editing
under its belt. The film, writer-director Cameron Crowe's (of Jerry McGuire) semi-autobiographical
tale about a 15-year-old finding his way through a jungle of rock n roll, journalism,
adolescence, parental pressure, drugs, sex and love, is an eminently watchable
piece free of the usual sentimental mushiness that goes with most adolescent dramas.
Set in the late sixties and early seventies, Almost Famous presents to you William Miller (Patrick Fugit), a boy whose over-zealous single-mother Elaine (Frances McDormand) thinks he's as special they come, or "predominantly accelerated". When William's older sister decides to leave home to see the world, she leaves him her collection of rock 'n' roll, which she promises will change his life. So William grows into adolescence with the tunes and words of Jim Morrison, Bob Dylan, Led Zeppelin and The Who. At 15, he meets Lester Bangs (Phillip Seymour Hoffman), an erstwhile reporter of Creem magazine, who serves as teacher and guide for William's literary ambitions.
When Rolling Stone magazine's music editor, Bob, unaware of William's age, calls and asks him to do a story for them, a thrilled William ties up with Stillwater, an upcoming band on a concert tour. He travels around the country with them and befriends the band's lead guitarist, Russell Hammond (Billy Crudup) and the beautiful Penny Lane (Kate Hudson), a groupie, or, as they call themselves, a Band-Aid. A precocious and already wide-eyed William becomes further wide-eyed and awed at the drugs, music, sex and politics of the band, and becomes intrinsically involved in the unreality and the magic of it all. The rest of the world, the "real world" as Penny calls it, is far away and rather unwelcome here.
Watching the band in such close quarters tells William a bit too much about it - he watches them almost break up, and he is witness to Russell's consequent doping and Penny's hurt at being rejected and used. Too many such truths make the young reporter wonder if journalistic integrity would mean betraying his new friends. And this is only one of the few dilemmas he has to face.
The performances do justice to the script. Patrick Fugit does a terrific job as the half-scared, half-confident 15-year-old William Miller who, as lead singer of Stillwater, Jeff (Jason Lee), says, "was never really a person, he was a journalist". Frances McDormand is brilliant as William's intelligent and fierce mother who knows not whether to hold on or to let go, and the luminous Kate Hudson as Penny Lane and Billy Crudup as Russell do their bit. The dialogues are great too, though a short reading of some of William's work to prove his skill with the written word is conspicuous in its absence.
Both music and writing are passions with the potential to envelop one's life so
much so that one becomes blind to the rest of the world. With the music of Simon
and Garfunkel and references to Harper Lee early on in the film, you get to travel
with William Miller through the two worlds and get to see great movie in the bargain.