June 3, 2018

Almost Famous (2000)
Grade: 49/100

Director: Cameron Crowe
Stars: Patrick Fugit, Kate Hudson, Billy Crudup

What it's about. Set mostly in 1973, and based on a true story, although Stillwater, Russell Hammond, and Penny Lane are fictitious. 15-year-old William Miller (Patrick Fugit) is a rock-and-roll fan who writes articles for a local paper. He has an intense widowed mother (Frances McDormand) and a hottie independent older sister (Zooey Deschanel). His mentor is legendary rock critic Lester Bangs (Philip Seymour Hoffman).

Rolling Stone magazine, the pinnacle of rock music journalism, hires young Miller to tour with the rock band Stillwater and submit a big story. The determined, incorruptible, yet adorable Miller quickly makes friends with Stillwater's handsome frontman, Russell Hammond (Billy Crudup), and Hammond's beautiful and nice groupie lover Penny Lane (Kate Hudson). Other groupies, younger and lower on the totem pole, include Polexia (Anna Paquin) and Sapphire (Fairuza Balk). Future talk show host Jimmy Fallon has a minor role.

Miller must decide whether to reveal the band's story, warts and all, or write a "puff piece" that instead flatters his new-found "friends." Meanwhile, Penny's affair with Russell is threatened by the arrival of Russell's humorless long-term girlfriend Leslie (Liz Stauber).

How others will see it. Believe it or not, Almost Famous was a box office disappointment, despite predominantly positive reviews. It was heralded at important film festivals, with four important nominations each at the Oscars, BAFTA, and the Golden Globes. It won Best Screenplay (Cameron Crowe) at the first two, and at the latter it won Best Supporting Actress (Hudson) and Best Motion Picture - Comedy or Musical, despite the film not being either a comedy or a musical. Frances McDormand was also nominated for Best Supporting Actress by all three of those important festivals.

The movie proved a great commercial success in its video release. Today at imdb.com, it has a big 226K user votes and a lofty user rating of 7.9 out 10. Most of the user reviews gush about the genius of Cameron Crowe and his nostalgic encapsulation of the rock scene of the early 1970s. Naturally, there are some user reviews that note how shallow the actual relationship was between groupies and rock stars, and they wonder why a woman would try to kill herself because of a down moment in a free love relationship in which the rock star doesn't even know her real name.

How I felt about it. Many things about this movie don't ring true to me. Rolling Stone hired 15-year-old writers for cover stories? This 15-year-old has a threesome with groupies, any of whom could be arrested for statutory rape if they are over 18? The clinging, prickly mother allows her son, not yet old enough to drive, to travel across the country with a rock band, where drugs, alcohol, and casual sex are the norm?

Then there's Penny's suicide attempt because (oh, the shock) the rock guitarist has a second girlfriend in New York City. And who would design a t-shirt that treats three of band's four members as if they were in a witness protection program? Then there's the true confession scene during plane turbulance ("I banged your sister too!").

I looked up my reviews for two of Cameron Crowe's other "triumphs", Jerry Maguire and Say Anything..., and noted that those movies also graded in the 40s. Which only demonstrates that the difference between celebrity and greatness is as tenuous in the film industry as it was in the rock and roll scene of the early 1970s.