Almost Famous full movie review - Growing Up is Hard, Even for Rock Stars
I really did love this movie when it first came out. Maybe it was because the soundtrack is comprised of some of my all time favorite music.
Or maybe it's because it played so directly, so nakedly at that semisecret part of me that desperately longed to be included in the beautiful, hip, happening crowd - to be famous. A couple years later I watched it again on video and I was surprised at how it now seemed somewhat glib and shallow and even smug - not nearly as genuine or sincere as when I had first encountered it. And now it's nearly a decade later and I just caught it on late night TV, and yes, I did again find it to be emphatically melodramatic and undeniably manipulative and almost sickly sweet at key moments, but it also somehow still managed to be very fun, and heartwarming, and absolutely irresistible. Though this musical morality tale may at times be a bit maudlin for my tastes there are enough admirable, clever, wonderful elements to make it well worth recommending.
The acting is all consistently above average, with Billy Crudup as Russell Hammond, the charismatic guitarist of a rock band on the cusp of fame. Crudup projects a potently serene if inscrutable presence which nicely compliments the more emotionally transparent energy of Jason Lee as Jeff Bebe, the proud front man who grows increasingly insecure at the prospect of being eclipsed by Russell's rapidly ascending star status. The lovely and luminous Kate Hudson is adorable and even believable as a blissfully carefree, faithful, self deluding groupie. Witnessing all the backstage depravity and shenanigans is a wide eyed, ridiculously prepubescent, aspiring Rolling Stone journalist, William Miller, whose cherubic face unexpectedly works to his advantage in opening doors and gaining confidences. A young but sophisticated Zooey Deschanel appears briefly as William's caring older sister. Francis McDormand as William's comically protective mother perhaps steals the show. She is a force of nature able to flatten any and all opposition as she fiercely battles to preserve her sweet boy's innocence. The film is based on writer/director Cameron Crowe's personal experience as a teenage reporter on assignment for the preeminent music magazine when he traveled for a time with the then monstrously out sized and now fabled Led Zeppelin tour.
The subject of this film is not so much the well documented, much hyped excesses of the rock star lifestyle - though the debauched, lurid recklessness is prominently on display - but more so the often difficult and painful process by which exuberant, naive youth passes into subdued, cynical maturity. Russel Crowe explores the curious phenomenon of our culture where the artists whose music so compellingly expresses the pain and regret and sorrow of our maturation are so often the people who for myriad reasons are the least equipped or willing to face this natural challenge. Pop musician are trapped in a state of arrested development, their rejection of traditional social behaviors and their intense self obsession is highly rewarded, and their impulsive momentary pleasures dominate their life choices. It's a devious irony that these revered cultural icons are frequently the ones who least benefit from their own insights, and by prolonging their own adolescences they often imperil their own well being, sometimes mortally. Crowe is fascinated by the curious paradox whereby the art and entertainment and music which we embrace in our youth is so often created by people with whom we, in fact, share very little in common.
But the music is what it's all about, or at least it should be. Music transcends time and space, and expresses everything so much more beautifully and deeply and directly than any other medium, even a film. As captivating or hypnotic or mesmerizing as a film may be a film invariably is an inferior experience to great music, and sadly the compelling soundtrack is too often overwhelmed or obliterated by the artifice of the film's cinematic devices. The pure integrity of the music is undermined by the dramatic scene cutting and intrusive editing which repeatedly decapitates and lacerates fantastic background songs. Sometimes the most formidable barrier to a film's excellence is the director's own ego fueled impulses. If this film had depended more confidently on the sublime power of its evocative musical score and resisted the temptation to overplay the drama it would absolutely have been a considerably more profound and satisfying experience.
Russel Crowe certainly understands that great music may compel us to want to intently examine the private lives of the musical artists - to want to dissect so clinically that with which we are so enthralled - but at least Crowe wisely refrains from attempting to define and label all of the mysterious, peculiar, vague emotions that the film explores. William's confused, conflicted, unresolved feelings for the supremely attractive people who inhabit the bizarre, depraved, exhilarating music world are very much our own confused, conflicted, unresolved feelings. Ultimately William's (and Crowe's) privileged position as an intimately trusted, precocious voyeur is what informs nearly every scene with a bittersweet, gentle, sad truth. Almost Famous, in the end, redeems itself.
If in adulthood we can somehow preserve even a scrap of our childhood enthusiasms then that truly is a victory of epic proportions deserving of our highest accolades. And if we manage this rare and special achievement with something like our dignity or possibly even our ideals intact, well, are we then anything less than Golden Gods?