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Review: Almost Famous (2000)

Almost Famous (2000)

Directed by: Cameron Crowe

Premise: Set in the early 1970s, a fifteen year old (Patrick Fugit) hustles his way into a writing assignment for Rolling Stone magazine, in which he tours with an up and coming rock band.

What Works: Almost Famous is a terrific movie about rock and roll. It begins with a very outlandish premise but it is able to make that premise credible through smart storytelling decisions and very good performances from a well-chosen cast. The film is led by Patrick Fugit as the teenage reporter and Fugit is very good. The story is about his coming of age and the young actor plays it just right. Fugit is credible in the role and he has a wide-eyed naiveté befitting the character’s age but he is also smart and self-aware, which puts the audience on his side and makes him enjoyable to watch. As a fifteen year old, the character is on the cusp between youth and adulthood, and the filmmakers come up with scenarios that confront their protagonist with choices that challenge his ideals and force him into a new understanding of himself and the world. The rest of the cast is equally stellar, including Frances McDormand as the boy’s mother and Billy Crudup as the band’s lead guitarist. The two are a bit like an angel and devil sitting on the main character’s shoulders but their influence is much more nuanced and in that the filmmakers recognize the complexity of life’s choices. Over a decade has passed since the original release of Almost Famous and part of the fun of watching the film now is that it contains so many actors early in their careers who went on to great success such as Jimmy Fallon, Anna Paquin, Zooey Deschanel, Jay Baruchel, and Rainn Wilson. But of these younger performers the acting revelation of the film is Kate Hudson. The actress shows a capacity for subtlety and complexity and her character’s relationship with the teenage reporter has a wonderful romantic dynamic to it. In the years since Almost Famous Hudson’s filmography has degenerated into a list of bottom of the barrel romantic comedies but watching her in this film is a reminder of the promise that Hudson had at the beginning of her career (and hopefully she will be able to fulfill it someday). With its storytelling and performances, the filmmakers of Almost Famous craft a story about growing up in relation to the myth of the rock star. Writer and director Cameron Crowe recognizes the way that musicians and other celebrities are godlike and the film sets its protagonist on a journey in which he discovers the human fallibility behind the stage. This story manages to be profound in a tangible way and the character’s disillusionment is sincere without becoming cynical.  

What Doesn’t: The conclusion of Almost Famous goes on a bit longer than it should. There are multiple endings and the picture overstays its welcome, determined to deliver an uplifting conclusion after working itself into a narrative corner. The picture is building toward a more ambiguous ending and the filmmakers dogged determination to provide an affirmative conclusion somewhat compromises the film but not nearly enough to ruin it.

DVD extras: There are two cuts of the film available: the theatrical cut and the extended director’s cut, which runs about forty minutes longer. The DVD of the director’s cut includes both versions as well as a featurette, deleted scenes, the shooting script, and original music. 
Bottom Line: Almost Famous is a great story about the myth and reality of popular music and the transition from youth to adulthood. Despite the fact that it forces a happy ending, the film also gets to some of the unpleasant realities of adulthood.

Episode: #393 (June 24, 2012)