Almost Famous Review
By Joe Lozito
"Almost" Makes Beautiful Music
It's quite possible that Writer-Director Cameron Crowe has not yet made a bad movie. However, his best, most inspired work tends to revolve around the music business. 1992's "Singles" was an intriguing and at times very funny romantic comedy set against the growing music scene in Seattle at the time. After 1996's more predictable Tom Cruise vehicle "Jerry Maguire," Mr. Crowe gets back to basics with "Almost Famous," his semi-autobiographical coming-of-age story of a budding journalist on tour with the fictitious up-and-coming rock band, Stillwater.
Leading off an impressive ensemble cast, as Mr. Crowe's surrogate journalist, is Patrick Fugit. His William Miller was left back a year in school by his domineering, but well-meaning mother Elaine (Frances McDormand), and Mr. Fugit manages to display all the emotion of young boy thrust into a world which is fascinating, enticing and oddly frightening. Ms. McDormand is brilliant again in a subtle, Oscar-worthy performance. She manages to make you understand what William's mother is thinking without a hint of condescension.
On tour with Stillwater, a Zepplin/Skynard-esque rock band on the verge of either succeeding big or failing hard, William bonds with lead guitarist Russell Hammond (Billy Crudup). The quietly charismatic Mr. Crudup embodies the laid-back lifestyle that is the theoretical aspiration of any successful musician. It is easy to see why William is drawn to him, especially with the introduction of groupie Penny Lane (Kate Hudson). In a star-making performance, Ms. Hudson (daughter of Goldie Hawn) is William's dreamy tour guide through the band's tour bus lifestyle. She possesses her mother's ability to light up the screen with her smile and she gives the film a genuine emotional heart.
Another mentor for William comes in the form of Phillip Seymour Hoffman, biting into the role of real life Creem magazine scribe, and guru to Mr. Crowe, Lester Bangs. Mr. Hoffman turns in another nuanced performance as he becomes a character actor of stunning reliability.
Most of the film is a testament to Mr. Crowe's impressive grasp of the music industry, its relationships, and its particular definition of cool and uncool. Never is this more evident than in a poignant scene during which, after a bout of in-fighting and name-calling, the band quietly bonds thanks to an impromptu sing-along of Elton John's "Tiny Dancer". Scenes like this typify Mr. Crowe's ability to seamlessly bring to the screen his understanding of the world of rock-and-roll. A world he brings to life in "Almost Famous" almost perfectly.