Every so often a film comes along that touches the audience on a very emotional level, at the heart of the human experience.
These films are often little independent films but sometimes the large studios manage to sneak such a film past the executives that push the blockbuster special effects flicks. Such a gem is to be found in Almost Famous.
Based rather closely on the teen-age experiences of director Cameron Crowe when he followed the Allman Brothers Band for the Rolling Stone. While this could easily have become a fluff piece, Almost Famous holds together one of the best films I have seen in a long time.
Patrick Fugit plays William Miller, (actually Cameron Crowe) a 15-year-old boy that gets into rock and roll after his sister leaves home and give him her vintage rock collection.
He becomes quite an expert in rock and uses his talent in journalism to start writing little local articles on the rock scene. He gets his big break when he meets the editor of the underground rock magazine Cream, Lester Bangs (Philip Seymout Hoffman).
Bangs is a strange rock critic; he loves rock but seems to hate the musicians. He becomes William’s mentor and even gives him an assignment covering the local appearance of a new rock group. Once there, William is blocked at the door until he meets Penny Lane (Kate Hudson).
Penny follows the opening band Stillwater but insists she is not a groupie but is rather a ‘band aide’ and is there for the music. She gets William into the concert and instead of the band he is supposed to cover he writes an article on Stillwater.
He also becomes infatuated with the beautiful Penny. William then gets a chance to follow the band on the road for Rolling Stone.
This immerses the wide-eyed boy into a new and unfamiliar life of a rock band. He begins to fall in love with Penny only to find out she is with the lead guitar player Russell (Billy Crudup). Add to the mix a worried mother (Francis McDormand), a jealous lead signer (Jason Lee), and some extremely odd groupies (Ana Paquin and Fairuza Balk).
Almost Famous is packed with incredible performances. There is not a miscast actor in the whole film.
Fugit is perfect as young Cameron, er, William. He balances the innocence of his young years with a yearning for experience and to break away from his mundane home life.
Hudson can’t do anything wrong in Almost Famous. (I felt she deserved the Oscar this year but hay, I don’t vote). Aside from her fresh good looks, reminiscent of her mother Goldie Hawn, she has an abundance of talent.
She portrays Penny as wise beyond her years and yet at the same time a vulnerable young girl. She can act more with a mere glance than many older actors can with the best-scripted lines. Hudson carries the film.
McDormant lends some comic relief to Almost Famous with her worried mother character. She takes the role beyond the obvious to a rich character portrayal of a mother concerned about her youngest child.
There is a scene where she calls William and Balk’s character answers the phone. At first Balk asks his mom is the girl with the pot. Not the best thing to say.
The older woman and younger woman then actually connect as Balk reminds William’s mother that she created a good young man that actually respects women. This is counter pointed later on in Almost Famous when the groupies are bored and decide to deflower William.
One cast member that is not credited as such is the soundtrack. I grew up with the songs of the early seventies so this music really brought me back. The music is as much of a participant of the film as any actor.
When a director writes and directs a film, like Almost Famous, that is based on his own life it can go in one of two directions. Either it is a tell all, poor me film or it is a labor of love. Fortunately, the later applies here in Almost Famous.
This was without a doubt one of the most formative times in Crowe’s life and he tells the story warts and all. His love for Penny, the concern of his mother and the difficult time he had in delivering the article to Rolling Stone.
While not glossed over you get the sense of his growth from the experience. Filmed in almost a documentary style Crowe displays a mastery of direction. The timing is great, the scenes are framed and lit with care and the characters are given a chance to develop. His method has matured a lot since Jerry Maguire and Singles. It shows even more care than these great flicks.
The disc is among the best ones released lately. The Dolby 5.1 and DTS soundtracks are pounding. The classic rock songs never sounded better. The dialogue is clear, never overwhelmed by the music.
The anamorphic 1.85:1 video is amazingly clear. Free of defect you will see every detail of each frame.
The extras in Almost Famous set this apart from the general mix of discs out today. While not fancy they are far more interesting than the usual behind the scenes standard faire.
Yes, there is such a featurette but it is a notch above the rest. There is also a music video by the ‘band’ Stillwater. The actors actually performed live to prepare for their roles and they carry the video off well.
Also included is the real bonus, the articles Crowe wrote as a teenager for Rolling Stone. While overlooked at the Oscars this year this in one DVD that should not be overlooked by you.
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