Almost Famous

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

In 1973, William Miller is a 15-year-old boy aspiring to be a rock journalist. His mother, Elaine, wants him to become a lawyer. Shunned by his classmates, he writes for underground papers in San Diego, sharing the love of rock music instilled in him through a gift of albums left behind on the day his sister Anita left home.

William listens to an interview with rock journalist Lester Bangs. William has sent Bangs copies of his work, and Bangs gives William a $35 assignment to write up a review of a Black Sabbath concert. At first reluctant to assist a journalist, the band Stillwater brings William backstage after he praises their work. The guitarist, Russell Hammond, takes a liking to William, partly because of William’s friendship with a groupie he has romantic feelings for, Penny.

William goes with Penny to the “Riot House” – the Hyatt Hotel on Sunset Boulevard – to meet Stillwater. Penny, feigning retirement from her rock glory days, acts as William’s chauffeur, but only to get close to Russell, for whom she has genuine feelings and a past relationship.

William is called by Ben Fong-Torres, editor of Rolling Stone, who wants him to do a story, believing William is several years older than he really is. When William convinces Ben to let him do a story on Stillwater, he is instructed to go on the road with them.

On the first leg of the trip, William makes his first in an increasingly frustrating number of attempts to interview Russell. Penny watches the interaction and sympathizes with William. William experiences tensions with the band due to his role as a journalist.

A new manager, Dennis, comes on board to help steer the band, and it is revealed that Penny must leave the tour before New York, where Leslie, Russell’s ex-wife/girlfriend, will join them. During a poker game he allows Dick to put up the groupies as a stake. The band loses the groupies to the band Humble Pie for $50 and a case of Heineken. When William tells Penny, she acts nonchalant but is devastated. Penny and Doris, the band’s tour bus, are left behind; Dennis has piled the band into a plane for more gigs.

Penny goes to New York on her own, and as the band gathers in a restaurant with Russell’s girlfriend, Penny shows up. As they celebrate making the cover of Rolling Stone, Penny makes Leslie uncomfortable and Dick asks her to leave. William chases Penny back to her hotel and finds her overdosed on quaaludes.

Believing they will die during a plane ride, the group confesses their secrets. When Penny is insulted by Jeff, the band’s lead singer, William defends her and discloses his love. The plane lands safely, leaving everyone to ponder the changed atmosphere.

William continues on to San Francisco to finish the story, parting ways with the band in the airport. Upset about Penny, he rewrites the article, telling the truth. The Rolling Stone editors cannot wait to publish it, but have to ask the band to verify it. Fearful of how the article will affect their image, the band makes William look like a liar. William is crushed and the story is dead. Sitting dejected in the airport, he sees his sister, who has become a stewardess and lives on her own terms. She tells him they should go on a trip together and, exhausted, William chooses to go home to San Diego.

Backstage at the Miami Orange Bowl on the Stillwater tour, Sapphire talks to Russell about Penny’s near-suicide and how despite the warnings she received about letting people fall in love with her, one of them saved her life. Russell is curious about the person in question, but Sapphire chastises him, saying that everyone knows what the band did to William and how awful they think it is. Russell calls Penny and asks for her address, telling her he wants to meet. Unbeknown to Russell, she gives him William’s address in an attempt to resolve their conflict. Russell goes to the house, thinking it is Penny’s, but finds Elaine instead. Learning who he is, she lets him in to see William as Russell realizes where he is. They reconcile and Russell reveals that he called Rolling Stone and told them William’s story is true. Russell gives William a proper interview, Penny purchases a ticket to Morocco, and William’s story is published, with Stillwater on the cover of “Rolling Stone”.

REVIEW:

Music…truly the greatest of the arts. As a musician, I may be a bit biased, though. Almost Famous does something that I don’t think many films of its ilk do, it intersperses real life with fiction. Oh wait, that has been done. Whoops! Seriously, though, other than giving us a close-up of Kate Hudson’s beautiful face, is there any reason to sit through this? Let’s find out shall we?

What is this about?

In the early 1970s, William Miller writes about the band Stillwater on a cross-country tour, learning about friendship and love along the way.

What did I like?

Wonder years. Let’s see, set in the 70s, teenage kid coming of age…what does this remind you of? That’s right! The Wonder Years! In some ways, this film brought me back to that show, but without the narration and with a somewhat darker tone, of course, but that’s a good thing because I grew up loving that show. The fact that someone was either obviously inspired by it to make this film, ripped off the idea, or just happened to have a coincidental idea is brilliant, mainly because I don’t think would have worked at any other point in time. You could probably argue for the swing era, but that would be an entirely different film, filled with race issues, depressions, etc.

Golden child. Patrick Fugit is one of those actors who you know you’ve seen him in this or that and hoped he would get his big break, but nothing ever happened past one or two starring roles for whatever reason. This is one of his star vehicles. He also had a big role in Saved, but other than that I don’t know that he’s anything major. That’s neither here or there, though. Fugit kills it in this role as an underage teen who happens to have a job at a local paper in San Francisco and, because of his outstanding skills, gets noticed by Rolling Stone magazine and asked to do a piece on the (fictional) band Stillwater. I should mention that he’s one of those graduate high school at 15 kids and this happens during the end of his senior year. Fugit has the innocent, dough-eyed look that one has at that age and he brings the worldly knowledge that an experience reporter, as we are led to believe he is, has as well. No wonder everyone thought this guy was going places.

Music, man. A film about a music reporter following around a band and doing a piece on them wouldn’t be complete without at least some music, right? I’m a little disappointed there weren’t more clips of the band performing, but I’m happy with what we got. Also, copyright issues and all that legal mumbo jumbo probably prevented this from being about someone like, say, Black Sabbath, who Stillwater is opening for when we first come across them. Back at this point in time, it was all about the music, man, and this film accomplishes the goal of showing us just why that is by portraying the ups and downs of a band which, in turn, translates into great songs.

What didn’t I like?

Mom. First off, let me say that Frances McDormand does a great job as the mother in the film. However, it is no wonder that, as she says, “…my children don’t want to be around me.” She shelters, brainwashes, and coddles them to the point that Zooey Deschanel’s character runs off to become a stewardess and Fugit jumps at the chance to goon tour with a band and its groupies. Pardon me, “band-aids.” Maybe it is because I am not a parent, but to be this kind of mother just seems to be too much. I didn’t see the dad, or hear mention of him, though, so perhaps this is some kind of coping mechanism or other psychological issue that she is inflicting on her children, causing them to drift further and further away.

Zooey and Phillip. Both Zooey Deschanel and Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s roles could have been bigger, I felt. Hoffman’s role was pretty decent, but as the resident mentor/father figure in this story, I almost feel as if he should have stepped in when things went south at the end. As for Zooey, she runs away in the beginning of the film and, by chance, she shows up at the end. As far as the audience knows, she and her brother haven’t talked since her departure, and yet they still seem close. Maybe it is my love for Zooey, but I would have liked to have seen some more interaction with the two throughout this journey. I also wonder what it would have been like had she had Kate Hudson’s role and vice versa.

Youth of a nation. What was it with young people in the 70s? Were they just able to run around free and willy-nilly take random bus rides across the country? Don’t even get me started on the girls! Apparently, they just went around when the first guy came around, they opened their legs and let them in. Ok…I’m exaggerating a bit, but if this film is to be believed, that was the life young people led back then. Not really something I disliked about the film, just a statement.

Dare I say Almost Famous is one of the best made films I’ve seen? Yes, I do dare. Kate Hudson, with her California girl looks, is perfectly cast as the independent Penny Lane. I’ve mentioned Patrick Fugit, Zooey Deschanel, and Frances McDormand. The music keeps you going and interested in the whole picture, and there are some comedic moments to keep the mood light. Do I recommend this? Yes, this is definitely a film to see before you die!

5 out of 5 stars

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