Almost Famous is a dream come true. Directed by Cameron Crowe, this film is the 2000’s take on the 1970’s coming of age story of William Miller, aspiring rock journalist. William is talented, honest, and intelligent. But here’s the twist. He’s a floppy haired 15-year-old with holes in his tennis shoes. William becomes wrapped up in a fantasy-come-to-life when he lands a job with Rolling Stone Magazine to accompany fictitious rock band Stillwater on their cross country bus tour. The overarching quality of this film is the idea of being “almost there.” William Miller is almost old enough to be honest about his age without embarrassment in the crowd he runs with. Penny Lane continues to pursue her almost relationship with Russell Hammond, the (married) lead singer of Stillwater, the band almost famous enough to be on the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine. The film in itself is almost realistic enough to be credible, but still remains a rock and roll fairytale in the viewers’ eyes.
The movie values bravery and mild rebellion in the name of fun. It also values intellect and loyalty, two ideals that define the character of William Miller, played by Patrick Fugit, who is the protagonist of this happy go lucky fairytale that still remains a favorite, feel good film after ten years.
The plot of Almost Famous is centered around young William’s adventure on the road way from his home of San Diego, with Russell (played by Billy Crudup), and the rest of Stillwater’s hard-headed crew. Accompanying them is the unforgettable fur-coat wearing, quaalude-overdosing “band aid” Penny Lane (Kate Hudson) who becomes the apple of William’s eye. Penny is only 16, and differentiates herself from a groupie in that, “Groupies sleep with rockstars because they want to be near someone famous. We are here because of the music, we inspire the music,” she most unconvincingly explains to William. Penny is a ‘70s fashion statement in herself, with her large rings and wavy carefree blonde hair. The costume design in the film is another example of the realness of the characters.
Penny Lane is a costume choice made by Crowe to show how young, misguided women imitate what they believe a groupie should be like. Penny wears a heavy faux-fur coat, purple spectacles, and chases Russell, claiming she is not in love and that she is here only for the music. Although she aims to be seen as nonchalant and independent, her youth and realness as a young woman comes through time and time again, as she loses Russell and when William discovers her real name, “Lady Goodman.”
Character choice in Almost Famous is what brings the film so close to the heart. Lester Bangs, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman is the almost too realistic, pot smoking, cursing, devilish-angel on William’s shoulder who guides him through the entertainment journalism industry, advising him to stay away from Hollywood because he is too innocent and pure. The conflict between the band members, and William’s mother’s concern for her son are other examples of real human emotion that shine through in this film.
According to IMBd, the music budget for Almost Famous was $3.5 million (whereas the music budget of most films are less than $1.5 million). Boy does it show. The film starts out with Simon & Garfunkel’s “America,” the first of 50 other featured songs that contribute to the flower child compilation that is the soundtrack. The best music-related scene is when Stillwater and company are on the bus after a particularly heated argument, and Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” comes on the radio. Scowls turn into laughter as the band one by one joins in, belting the lyrics to this classic. Once again, we are reminded of how music is a powerful, unifying force that brings us together.
Almost Famous is a small, sugarcoated distortion of what the real world of music touring is really like. Ask Nikki Sixx, notorious bassist of Motley Crue what the worst that’s ever happened on a U.S. tour. I bet he wouldn’t reply with, “I took acid at a high school kids’ party, yelled ‘I am a golden God,’ and leapt from a rooftop and landed safely and unharmed in a swimming pool,” like Russell Hammond does in Almost Famous in an attempt to exemplify the hard and fast partying lifestyle of a rock lead singer.
Regardless, Almost Famous is essentially about following your heart and never letting go of your passions, no matter how absurd they may seem. And that is something very real.