Directed by: Cameron Crowe
Written by: Cameron Crowe
Starring: Billy Crudup, Frances McDormand, Kate Hudson, Jason Lee, Patrick Fugit, Anna Paquin
The life of a rock star allured many and would have kids dreaming of the life they could have whenever they listen to an album or watch a music video. The appeal of this life led to many kids in the 70s and 80s revolting from their strict parents to try and reach that status as showcased in Almost Famous. A film that takes a nostalgic look into that world, including some of the more reprehensible aspects.
William Miller (Patrick Fugit) grew up with an overprotective mother that barred him from consuming any version of Rock and Roll. Thanks to his sister (Zooey Deschanel), he grows a love for music and seeks the opportunity to cover a band called Stillwater for the famous magazine, Rolling Stone. On this journey, William meets Penny Lane (Kate Hudson) and enters into a new world that he was grossly underprepared for.
The same allure that attracts someone to the life of a rock star brings the audience into this world. One where media figures are seen as the enemy and women yearn for the love and affection of a rock star. It contains many jams that many adore and continues to display the complete affection and adoration that this film has accrued since its release. Almost Famous brings everyone into the perspective of William when they were younger and saw the purity of the world of music without the inevitable nonsense of business surrounding it. That feeling tries to grab the audience and it works so well because it comes from the personal experience of writer/director Cameron Crowe.
Crowe lived a bit of the groupie lifestyle and the characters he creates in the story feel real and alive because of it. Even those that may feel enigmatic at points continue to be grounded in humanity. Crowe displays his skills as both a writer and director with this feature in the way he establishes this world that William leads the audience through. The most absurd moments also possess plenty of heart and it makes it all the more endearing. The success of Almost Famous also comes from its phenomenal cast of talented folks coming together.
Serving simply as supporting characters are Frances McDormand, Zooey Deschanel, Anna Paquin, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rainn Wilson, Billy Crudup, but the one that stole the show inevitably became Kate Hudson as Penny Lane. A character meant to bewilder the audience with her mix of confidence and pure humanity, Penny can be your best friend while also lying to you each step of the way. One of Hudson’s earlier roles and will probably remain as her greatest because of the lasting impact of the character. From her aesthetic to her nonchalant attitude, Penny Lane’s circular sunglasses assure that her iconography will never fade in cinema history.
While Lane stands out as the film’s greatest asset, she also represents part of the story that did not allow me to love it, which comes down to consent. With this story almost being a catalog of Cameron Crowe’s life, at times it feels like a documentary of the life of rock stars. That included plenty of drugs, but it also seemed to include sexual relationships with underage girls, or should I say statutory rape. It comes through with Penny Lane and her relationship with members of the Stillwater band. Being as elusive as she is, there’s a moment where she discusses her age with William that obviously indicates that she falls between the ages of 15-16. Considering her experience as a person that hangs with bands, it shows the culture of statutory rape where Lane spends her time having sexual relationships with men in their 30s while obviously being too young to consent. On one hand, that’s the reality of that time, but Crowe’s affection for it leaves much to be desired, especially with him not making any comment about it through his storytelling. Again, this complaint comes through as a personal quibble I have with the film because other films tackle that subject more proficiently such as The Diary of a Teenage Girl and An Education. In both films, it is evident that the young women realize that they are above men. Coincidentally, they were both directed by women as opposed to Crowe with Almost Famous.
Even with that huge gaping issue, Almost Famous has its brilliance in capturing a time where music played at its purest. When artists came together for the love of the art rather than commerce. It stands as a touchstone of that time and continues to be beloved even to this day.