123 minutes | Rated: R
Opened: Friday, September 15, 2000
Wider: Friday, September 22, 2000
Written & directed by Cameron Crowe
Starring Patrick Fugit, Billy Crudup, Frances McDormand, Kate Hudson, Jason Lee, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Anna Paquin, Fairuza Balk, Zooey Deschanel, Noah Taylor, Eion Bailey, Terry Chen, Mark Pellington, Jimmy Fallon, Bijou Phillips
Cameo: Peter Frampton
SMALL SCREEN SHRINKAGE: 15%|
Cameron Crowe movies always translate well to the small screen. This one is a classic and a keeper. Buy it now. In fact, buy it here! On DVD or on VHS.
VIDEO RELEASE: 03.13.2001
"Amost Famous": The Bootleg Cut|
Everything you could ever want in a DVD, including two versions of the film, one with 45m of extra footage and a sublime commentary w/ Cameron Crowe & his mom (since she's such an important part of this autobiographical film). Chock full of remembrances, cinematic bon mots, stories about the trouble Crowe went to in order to recreate locations and events exactly (down to filming Lester Bangs' intro on the same exact hill on which Crowe first met him) and pointing out his dozens of little homages to films, songs and rock stars. The first DVD commentary I've heard that I might listen to more than once.
As for extras, they're very much Crowe's personal gifts to the movie's fans, and he's included audio introductions to many of the features, like 15 minutes of footage from one of the concerts Stillwater staged for the film & a presentation of Crowe's top albums of 1973 with an audio track explaining why he considers them important and influential. To top it off, there's an accompanying CD of 6 Stillwater songs.
OTHER NOTABLE BONUS MATERIAL
Deleted scenes w/commentary. Screenplay & text of some of Crowe's Rolling Stone articles that helped inspire the film (both of which should have been an accompanying booklet instead of screens you have to navigate on TV). Interesting raw-footage behind-the-scenes featurette. Snippets of an interview w/ the real Lester Bangs. Terrific theatrical trailer. Several hidden "Easter eggs."
Dolby 5.1, 2.0, Surround
SUBS: English, French, Spanish
As good as it gets
DVD RATING: ****
Writer-director Cameron Crowe hits just the right chord with rock 'n' roll autobiography 'Almost Famous'
Writer-director Cameron Crowe's fond fictionalization of his first assignment for Rolling Stone -- as a 15-year-old cub reporter in 1973 -- "Almost Famous" is a vividly realized labor of love and an absolute pleasure to watch.
Having gestated in Crowe's fertile mind since before "Say Anything," his 1989 directorial debut, it's a born crowd-pleaser honed into an entertaining cinematic paragon of rock 'n' roll that boasts sharp performances from a sublime cast, speaking page after page of Crowe's unique brand of intrinsically quotable, yet seemingly true-to-life dialogue.
A winning young actor named Patrick Fugit -- who prior to being cast had only two episodes of "Touched By An Angel" on his resume -- carries the movie as William Miller, the director's mop-topped alter-ego. Like Crowe himself, William gets his start as a rock journalist by being taken under the wing of Lester Bangs (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a jaded but passionate music reporter for the fanzine Creem.
After writing a few pieces for that publication, a phone call from Rolling Stone changes his life. Not realizing he's talking to a 15-year-old boy, an editor offers him an assignment to cover an up-and-coming band on tour.
In real life, teenage Crowe toured with Led Zeppelin, the Allman Brothers and several others. In "Almost Famous" the hippie hard rock band is called Stillwater, and is fronted by a temperamental singer (Jason Lee) and a talented guitarist (Billy Crudup) with a laid back charisma. The guitar player befriends the naive, awestruck William as he tries to put together a behind-the-scenes story about the band without losing his objectivity.
Ironically, while William is doing his best to write a no-holds-barred exposé that is fair to his newfound friends at the same time, Crowe looks at this 360-degree view of backstage life through a rose-colored camera lens. Sure there are drugs, but there are no addicts. Sure there's easy sex with star-struck groupies that follow the band, but they're the hanger-on equivalent of the hooker with the heart of gold. Crowe depicts them as sweet, squeaky-clean girls who just happen to be a little hot to trot. Goodness knows they're not troubled girls starved for affection, goodness knows!
But then Crowe's movies have always been a little overly-scripted, a little contrived and innocuously upbeat -- while being wildly entertaining nonetheless. If you realize the story is being told through the wonder-filled eyes of a teenager who gets to hang out with his musical heroes, most of this soft-peddling can be forgiven. (The film's biggest inescapable flaw: We never see William's creative process. We never see him actually write.)
"Almost Famous" captures with vivid, nostalgic precision the atmosphere of early '70s and the handwriting on the wall that spelled out what those who grew up in that era consider the death of true rock 'n' roll at the hands of commercialization.
Crowe definitely puts the audience right there on the tour bus, right there on the stage (there's a fish-eye lens shot from the footlights during a concert that made me feel like a rock star), and right inside William's mind as he begins to wake up to his heroes' humanity and realize their blemishes.
Crowe faithfully taps into what it is to be a teenager, too. "This song explains why I'm leaving home to become a stewardess," William's sister (Zooey Deschanel) announces to their mom as she drops the needle on Simon and Garfunkel's "America" and packs her things to run away.
But what really sustains the film is its treasure trove of memorable performances -- something Crowe always inspires in his actors. (Renée Zellweger and Cuba Gooding, Jr. in "Jerry Maguire." QED.)
The enormously appealing Fugit was a casting coup in the role of William. This talented kid effortlessly captures everything that's still innocent about his age, while convincingly portraying the blossoming of an inherently gifted journalist (the stuff young Crowe wrote for Rolling Stone was at least as good as his screenplays to follow).
In a break-out role as a groupie with fantasies about her significance to the band, Kate Hudson ("Gossip," "200 Cigarettes") adds a hint of darker honesty to her buoyant character who serves as something of a white rabbit in William's trip through this rock 'n' roll Wonderland.
Even though her character is more comedy than conflict, Frances McDormand is absolute perfection as William's overprotective mom who in an early scene picks him up backstage in her station wagon and who takes some serious convincing before allowing him to go on this trip with a bunch of long-haired rock musician.
"Your mom is kinda freaking me out," says Crudup after she gives him an earful on the phone about behaving in front of her boy.
Speaking of Crudup, his under-the-radar aptitude as an actor (anyone who has seen "Waking the Dead" knows what I'm talking about) may finally get recognized after his dynamic performance as Stillwater's guitarist, the nonchalant-on-the-outside, troubled-on-the-inside soul of the band. Jason Lee, hitherto known mostly for caustic comedy roles in Kevin Smith movies (Banky in "Chasing Amy," a demon in "Dogma") turns in a droll but measured portrayal of the band's begrudging front man.
But the scene-stealer here is Hoffman as Lester Bangs, who doles out valuable advice to his young apprentice and waxes on endlessly about the poetry and depth of rock and roll, man. This could be said of almost any Hoffman performance, but give that man an Oscar.
"Almost Famous" loses a lot of momentum in the last two reels. It becomes pretty trite too, with Screenwriting 101 epiphanies and apologies that smack blatantly of fiction, whereas the rest of the movie feels fairly true. Worse, the ending is so long in coming it feels like the credits could roll at any second during the last half-hour.
The movie falls short of the great potential it shows in its first hour, during which I thought I might be watching -- at long last -- the first four-star movie of 2000. That wasn't mean to be, it seems. But so what? I sill had a great time.