Thursday, August 9, 2012

Movie Review Thursdays - Almost Famous

Well today IS Thursday no?  And I did watch Almost Famous last night.  And it struck me.  So here goes.  I'll try to keep it relatively spoiler free.  Oh and also, if you like these types of review, let me know in the comments section or by email and I will add them to my repertoire:

Almost Famous is a somewhat autobiographical work by awesome director Cameron Crowe (Jerry MacGuire, Fast Times at Ridgemont High and the amazing, amazing Say Anything, a movie like 20 years ahead of its time).  It is the story of 16 year old William Miller, a high school kid who loves rock and roll.  In 1973, he manages to land a gig for Rolling Stone magazine, writing an on the road article about fictional rock band Stillwater.  Despite Miller being "one of the enemy", the band befriends him and takes him in.

The story itself is very good.  Young kid enters into the fake world of fame, glamour and rock and sees all of the rocks beneath the surface.  But what drives this story forward is the wonderful acting by everyone other than Patrick Fugit, who plays Miller.

Frances McDormand is dead on as William's offbeat mother - who lied to Miller about his age when he was 11 so he wouldn't feel so out of place with the 13 and 14 year old he was with in high school (she pushed him ahead).  While initially against his going with the band, she allows it.  Her excellent phone conversation with lead guitarist Russell Hammond is legendary, turning the "Golden God" into a murmuring "yes ma'am" kind of guy.  Or the humerous scene when she suddenly ends her college class because "my son was kidnapped by a rock band".

Phillip Seymour Hoffman plays Lester Bangs, who apparently was a famous rock critic for a magazine called Creem magazine.  He serves as Miller's advisor.  The best advice he drives home is that famous people will use you and pretend to be friends with you in order to ultimately get what they want - for you to make them more famous.  He advises Miller to stay aloof and be brutally honest.

Billy Cruddup plays Russell Hammond, the lead guitarist and super ego-ist of the group.  He spends the entire movie cheating on his girlfriend, threatening to leave the band, fighting with his band mates and alternating between drug addled declarations ("I am a Golden God", he proclaims right before he jumps off a roof into a swimming pool) and feelings of trying to connect with the "real people" (like the ones who give him the acid he trips on BEFORE jumping off said roof).

Jason Lee plays Jeff Bebe, lead singer and Hammond's counter-point. Lee manages to look like a lead singer and does a nice job as the pouty front-man who suffers from a severe case of jealousy.

Kate Hudson, in her only role that doesn't want to make me vomit, does a tremendous job as Penny Lane, not groupie but Band-Aid (no sex, only blow jobs), the secretly vulnerable girl who falls in love with both Hammond and Miller over the course of the movie - and who suffers a tremendous blow but ultimately finds redemption (as Crowe characters so often do).

As I stated above, Miller is played by Patrick Fugit, a newbie.  Who does a fine job looking like the starry eyed kid he is (like the excellent scene where three of the Band-Aides help him lose his virginity) but fails to reach the right acting chops when he is supposed to show anger or otherwise emote.

The excellent story of the band on the road unfolds for the first three quarters of the movie.  The final stage is the writing (and re-writing) of Miller's story and the fallout it creates.  In one of the movie's best scenes, Lee complains that the quotes in the article make them all look like a "bunch of amateurs" while a clearly hung over Cruddup says "maybe we don't see ourselves as we truly are" or something close to that.

Another excellent component of the film was its sound track. Crowe wrote for Rolling Stone as a kid out of college and interviewed the likes of Led Zeppelin, etc.  In fact, Zeppelin allowed Crowe to use four songs in this movie, the ONLY movie (other than Crowe's Fast Times at Ridgemont High) that has a Zeppelin song in its sound track.  I guess Mr. Crowe and I share similar tastes, which is cool too.

All in all, a very enjoyable two-hours of my time.  Almost Famous will almost certainly be added to my list of movies that, when I see it on cable, I will surely stop in and say hello to an old friend.

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