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Film Review: Almost Famous

Weave your way through some magical musical mayhem...

“The only currency in this bankrupt world is what you share with someone when you're uncool.
(Lester Bangs in Almost Famous)

For those who’ve ever loved a song so much it hurt, lusted after a lead singer, sat for hours at a stage door, made pining pitiful faces at a hard faced doorman, or chased an autograph from a rock star – this is for you.

Patrick Fugit in Almost Famous Many of us music lovers find it hard to use the word fan. We want to disassociate ourselves from any idea of being a groupie, attempting instead to establish the stance of a ‘serious fan’, moved by the music but never too excited. Discussing the band's musical merits thoughtfully instead of being reduced to monosyllabic stunned speech. But come on, admit it - it is fun to almost pee yourself over a concert, to forget your age for a moment and just be a manic fan. To love unselfconsciously! Because after all, there are no rules to being a real fan, are there? Director Cameron Crowe should know – he lived the fantasy of befriending his rock idols while having a genuine professional reason to hang out of them as they toured from state to state. While most people shift uncomfortably and deny their years of poster clad walls, saved ticket stubs and plectrums touched by their hero's hand, this writer-director has chosen to expose his years of being a rock fan and journalist to make a film that will remind us all of what we shared with other people when we too, were uncool.

The story is a dream, a well of experiences and unrecorded events from a life on tour in the ‘70s. After being stored for years in the director’s mind and boxes of old memorabilia, Crowe finally made his memories the center of his art after his success with the feel-good Jerry Maguire and his other rock hit movie, Singles.

Almost Famous chronicles the journey of William Miller on his first assignment with Rolling Stone magazine. At the tender age of 15, carrying words of warning from his mentor; the infamous and controversial rock critic Lester Bangs, this pubertal and refreshingly naive boy sets off to write a ‘think piece on a emerging band struggling to come to terms with themselves in the face of harsh stardom’, or something along those lines. What he witnessed many journalists wait their whole lives for. Although Miller (played by newcomer Patrick Fugit and based on Crowe) was seen as ‘the enemy’, he was someone the bands could trust and everyone from David Bowie to the Eagles opened up to his honest face. The fictional band, Stillwater, teetering on a line between break-up and success, are actually an amalgamation of many household names used to represent the sort of wild decadent spirits to whom Crowe lost his innocence.

A touching, poignant and often hilarious coming of age story with intuitive and subtle performances by actors on the cusp of stardom themselves. Thankfully Brad Pitt pulled out of the role of Stillwater’s mysterious lead guitarist, making way for Billy Crudup who excelled as the sensitive yet vain would-be ‘demi-god’. The fact that faces such as Hudson, Lee and Fugit are still fresh gives this film another edge, an element of purity. Although about the industry of cool, rock’s battle with the corporate machine, and the excesses of stardom, this is really a moving story of love, friendship and losing your virginity. William’s eyes are opened in more ways than one, but even after the band lets him down he still believes in the music.

Frances McDormandThe moments of pure comedy are provided mainly by Frances Mc Dormand (Fargo), the frantic well meaning Mom who constantly warns her son ‘don’t take drugs’, phoning him at the most compromising times and ‘freaking out’ his road buddies. Cameron Crowe, on talking about the flying garter girls, a band of famous groupies or band-aids as they preferred to be termed, led by the strong willed yet quietly vulnerable Penny Lane (Kate Hudson). Young William falls in love with her of course, along with everyone else and in the real world they affect each other’s lives forever.

The film presents everything from earth shattering concerts, management rows, seething band rivalry, family tensions, a threesome deflowering, a near death experience and at the heart of it, a true and uncompromising love of music. Beyond the fame, the success and the vanity.

Accompanied by an incredible soundtrack from the era- including the first ever feature use of a Led Zeppelin song - this film will take you back even if you’ve never been there.

With the pressures and media attention these days, often ‘being famous’ doesn’t sound like fun, but ‘almost famous’ might be a whole different story. A film that makes you want to be a rock star isn’t something new but a film that makes you want to let go and lose the cool, well that’s precious. For old times sake, I think I might let myself swoon at the next concert; I might plead with the stage crew for a backstage pass or a set list. Just maybe.....”It’s all happening”!

Anna Keeling

 

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