Almost Famous


Directed by: Cameron Crowe
Written by:Cameron Crowe
Starring: Patrick Fugit, Billy Crudup, Kate Hudson, Frances McDormand, Jason Lee, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Anna Paquin
Released: February 22, 2001
Grade: A

How often have you reflected back on your life and pulled out those singular moments that defined it?  We go through our paces each day when suddenly the pieces fall into place and a moment comes along which changes us forever.  Sometimes we know it straight away but sometimes it takes a little longer to appreciate.

William Miller (Fugit) is 15, about to graduate from high school and loves rock music.  It’s 1973 and his mother, Elaine (McDormand), is conservative yet stringent.  She started her son in school at an early age so he could reap the benefits and begin a fruitful law career.

William has other ideas and loves to combine his two passions - rock 'n' roll and writing.  He sends articles regularly to Lester Biggs (Hoffman), editor of a local music magazine, to make an impression.  Lester sees a little of himself in William and gives him the chance to attend a Black Sabbath concert if he'll write an article for the publication.

At the concert, he meets an upcoming group led by Russell Hammond (Crudup) and Jeff Bebe (Lee) known as Stillwater.  They take a liking to William and his untarnished innocence - a rock writer is supposed to be the “enemy” but in front of them is a 15-year-old kid with no experience.

Not long after, William gets a phone call - “This is Rolling Stone magazine”.  They’re also impressed with his work and over the phone, offer him a full story.  3,000 words on Stillwater and in return he gets to tour with the band for four days all expenses paid and earn $1,000 on the side.  William’s mother takes some convincing (he has to promise to call twice a day) but the man and the moment have finally met.  Over the next two weeks, William would learn more about the world of rock and roll than he ever thought possible and as the trailer accurately phrases it, "there was more to write home about than just the music".

Cameron Crowe (Jerry Maguire) has based much of the story on his own experiences as a youth and his passion for the story is evident through his direction.  All the characters are richly developed and shouldn't be quickly judged.  Kate Hudson plays a loyal fan that tours with the group (known as a “band aid”) and winds up having a relationship with Russell who also happens to have a girlfriend back home.  Russell himself is quite mysterious and as William finds, hard to pin down for an interview.  The female leads (Hudson and McDormand) do dominate though and are receiving acclaim from critics across the globe.

It’s such a great story.  As it unfolds, William becomes more and more part of the group and in the process loses his independence as a writer.  As Lester tells him, “if you’re going to be a true journalist, you cannot make friends with the rock stars.”  Back in Los Angeles, Rolling Stone is not interested in an article glorifying the band - they want gritty, behind-the-scenes details.  Can William betray the trust the band has placed in him?  Tough decisions for a 15-year-old.

There is much to appreciate in Almost Famous because of the lessons it offers.  Not only does it talk about rock music and the 1970s, it looks at celebrities, what drives them and the influences of people that surround them.  Personally, the point which struck at me most was watching William battling his ethical demons in deciding what to write and the reaction it brought from the Rolling Stone editors.  There’s another great piece of advice he receives from Lester - “be truthful and unmerciful” and you can’t go wrong.

Well I will be truthful and unmerciful.  This is a rare film where you hope the credits never roll because you always want to know more.  Intelligent humour mixed with true human emotion.