MPAA Rating: R/ Genre: Comedy-Drama/ Stars: Patrick Fugit, Billy Crudup, Frances McDormand, Kate Hudson, Jason Lee, Zooey Deschanel, Anna Paquin, Fairuza Balk, Bijou Phillips, Noah Taylor, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Terry Chen, Jay Baruchel, Jimmy Fallon, Rainn Wilson, Mark Kozelek, Liz Stauber, Zack Ward, John Fedevich, Eric Stonestreet, Marc Maron, Peter Frampton/ Runtime: 122 minutes
Oh what some would truly give to be younger and more innocent in the ways of the world once more! Not to sidestep what it takes to be an adult in this world mind you, but rather to just be able to cherish that time of discovery, of blossoming comprehension, and to see the world as it could be through a youthful prism to say nothing of seeing this trinity merge into a form of uncertainty that despite not exactly always making sense is still quite the sight to see them all develop. Indeed it is how they develop that proves to be the key to an individual’s own personal construction into an adult. The reason I bring it up is because the movie I am reviewing today Almost Famous is a film about these very things and so much more. By that I mean this is also a film about the powers of discovery and honesty and above all what happens when the reality of how the world truly is in a violent collision with the lazy-river style of youth, that first time you got to really go out on your own, and even the first few hints of that incredible and mind boggling concept known as love. Indeed Almost Famous really is that rarity amongst films in that it truly is as filled with integrity as it is satisfying, as potent as it is amusing, as comical as it is tragic, and really makes for an undeniable masterpiece not about music, but rather about life. Indeed those really are the best types of films since life as it is unfiltered, not as it should or could be, but instead constructed around truth that may not be nice or easy to figure out, but truths all the same that help open our eyes and leave us truly satisfied when we embark on a journey that shows us not what existing is all about, but what to really live is all about instead.
The plot is as follows: Almost Famous tells the story of a young man by the name of William Miller. Will, we soon learn, at one time was considered a most certainly “uncool” yet brilliant kid who managed to get ahead a few grades only to be seriously derided by his classmates since they might be bigger and older, but they most certainly are nowhere near as smart. To make matters worse, Will’s life at home is in a state of turmoil as well courtesy of his sister leaving home in an attempt to find herself, but not before leaving her records to our intrepid young hero, and his Mom disapproving of rock music of which Will has a near-God level intellect of. Thus we see, when our story begins, that Will has acquired for himself a job as a writer for Creem after really intriguing a cynical music critic by the name of Lester Bangs with a delightful mixture of passion, skill, and dedication. It is on his first assignment for the magazine that we also see Will both cross paths with a group of roadies led by an intriguing young woman named Penny and also impressing another band by the name of Stillwater with compliments of a dedicated yet brilliant nature. Indeed even though there are a few hints that things are not on easy street between lead singer Jeff Bebe and lead guitarist Russell Hammond, the group nevertheless really finds themselves accepting Will and invite him to join them on tour which results in Will also getting a potentially career-making assignment from Rolling Stone in the form of writing an article on the band. Thus as William goes cross-country, he also gets to know the band as people rather than just as a story, finds himself attracted to Penny, drives his mom up the wall with worry, comes into conflict with deadlines, misses his own graduation, and yet through all of it comes to see that these moments, for good or ill, will help construct his life and really showcase who he will become in life as he makes his way into that intriguing time in life known only as adulthood.
Now it should be noted that film helmer Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous is not only a semi-autobiographical look back at the auteur’s own youth, but also the finest hour in his short yet still noteworthy filmography. In fact I will go so far as to say that in terms of heart and integrity this film might just be even better than perennial Crowe favorite Jerry Maguire. I say that because this is a film which is built upon several different layers though each is nevertheless vital to both the overarching narrative as well as the bigger themes at play herein. Indeed it is safe to say that this is a film which works completely due to how honest it is with the audience. Yes these characters are nowhere close to being perfect people, but underneath the negativity there is a surprising amount of integrity to unearth, to discover just what life is all about, and above all what truly matters in the long run as well. Indeed the dishonesty and the characters’ differences with each other all originate from the fact that they need the acceptance of everyone else to either be who they want to be or at least find out who they want to be. Not helping matters by any means is the fact that these characters all live in world where labels are common, but in all fairness maybe it’s not the labels we put on people or the titles we give them, but the stuff on the inside and being in possession of an integrity-filled soul which is key and it is this fact that this film aims to show. In fact that is pretty much what this film is trying to tell audiences; I say that because discovery is not about being who society wants or going on a path already set for you. To be fair neither is hitting the road with a rock band, but for the cast of characters in this film it is and that is the key to this movie’s success. Indeed the characters are all able to find where they need to be and who they need to surround themselves with in order to find who they are as people. Yes for some this is an experience that leads them down a different path, but everyone in this film still manages to learn a key thing about themselves, other people and the world in which they are all a part of.
It should also be noted that Almost Famous is constructed on a reality that may know the lingo of the world of music, but that will be able to speak to your heart and your soul directly. Indeed this is a very authentic film that goes beyond its setting and focuses more on a powerful message about the power of truth. Be it truth in how we live, truth in music, writing, or that of a more personal shall we say nature. Suffice it to say therefore that truth is a crucial thing in this film and through that the world in which these characters function. This is because from that integrity and truth is where we see reality emerge and in this film’s case reality is not only about this journey’s destination, but also about what is and isn’t real. Of course it should come as no surprise to learn that music plays an integral part in all of this, but it may surprise you to learn that it is also only a gateway to finding a greater sense of understanding. An understanding that consists of these particular characters having the music shape and construct them into both who they are and who they need to be. Thus this film may not find the soul of music, seeing as that is different for everyone, but rather it finds what it means to live through the power of music. Indeed it may not be a set in stone guide, but it certainly serves as a riveting showcase for what it means to both truly live and to find who you are meant to be. Indeed for everyone this will be something that is very different, but whatever it may be its core can be found in this film due to how emotionally and brilliantly it stays loyal to its core themes of integrity, truth, and realism from beginning to end.
Yet when you get past the meaningful and quite soul-shaking themes at play, what you are left with a sweet little film plain and simple. Yes it can be a challenge to sit through at times, but when you take a peek through its realisticness and its integrity, you see that this is a film with a heart, and that manages to combine meaning and a feel-good attitude brilliantly. Even better this is not a “feel-good film” in the schlocky and over-the-top way a lot of those movies tend to be. Rather this is a film which gives off both good and right vibes because of its genuineness, it’s characters so realistic, and its purpose so in-depth. Yet besides the terrific script written by Crowe to say nothing of his phenomenal helming, and also a top-notch soundtrack, this film’s finest asset is the performances in front of the camera. I say this because there is not a single flat turn in this film and everyone manages to with ease bring you into the world of Rock during the 70s and this really crucial period of time in the lives of their characters. Yet even more crucially is the fact that every thespian involved not only gets just what this film is trying to convey, but that their characters and their journey are what keep the film together. To that end, there really is an immersiveness to every character that help to make both the film and its narrative work in equal measure. Indeed Frances McDormand is absolutely terrific as the loving and meaning well “antagonist” of the film who vehemently declines to see the power that music can have and instead sees that the value a journey can have is not physical or psychological, but rather spiritual. Also proving to be quite excellent is Patrick Fugit as our young hero William. Indeed Fugit manages to give us a truly powerful turn that showcases both brilliance, but also a degree of amazement. Not just at the world he has found himself a part of, but also at the person he finds he is meant to be as well. Yet out of all the other iconic performances in this film, I feel that one of the finest has to be brought to us courtesy of Phillip Seymour Hoffman in the role of the grumpy music critic who also is Will’s mentor more or less. Indeed Hoffman does a wonderful job at giving us a wise man who may be cynical when it comes to music, but who is truly insightful when it comes to finding not only who you are meant to be, but also where you belong in a world that has been molded by a deep and passionate love for music.
All in all I think it is safe to say that Almost Famous is that unique kind of movie which have a different meaning for every person who chooses to watch it. For a few this will be quite the introspective film. For others it will be a journey that sees them reaching an understanding: not of who they are as people mind you, but of life and what it means to them. Of course then there are others who will just simply see this as one of the films made about Rock ‘n’ Roll ever. Yet no matter how you as an individual choose to see this film, and trust me when I say it is not difficult to find more meanings than the trio I listed, I can say with certainty that Almost Famous is undeniably a fine film to come out of the era known as the 2000s. Indeed here is a film which is so well-constructed in all the crucial areas of filmmaking, but especially in the performances and the narrative that it is not that difficult for me to see why this is one film that can be watched time and time again and is even one which people still enjoy rocking out to even today. On a scale of 1-5 I give Almost Famous a solid 4 out of 5.