Almost Famous

Rated: R
Patrick Fugit, Jason Lee, Frances McDormand, Kate Hudson, Billy Crudup, Philip Seymour Hoffman

Buzz. This is a Cameron Crowe bio-pic. Buzz. It’s got sex, drugs and rock & roll. Buzz, Kate Hudson is hot. Buzz, buzz, buzz it’s got Academy Award written all over it. Well I got a buzz for you – Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous, a tale about his being the youngest writer for Rolling Stone magazine back in the early 1970’s, is a completely blasé attempt to reminesce about rock & roll and the stranglehold it had upon some kids back in those days. And by that I mean it’s fairly boring.

As for Kate Hudson being hot … the only reason she got the Golden Globe award is because she’s Goldie Hawn’s daughter. Everyone knows the Globes are nothing more than a popularity contest. Hudson’s a pretty face with a skinny little body. Her performance is nothing to brag about. And the award she got was a slap in the face to Frances McDormand who also starred in the film and was also nominated. Let’s hope the Globes are not an indication of how the Oscars will go.

The film, written and directed by Crowe, stars newcomer Patrick Fugit as a younger version of Crowe, here named William Miller. He’s a 15-year old goofy looking nerd, disliked by his classmates, although inordinately bright and not afraid to go after what he wants. And what he wants at this early age is to write about rock & roll. He does a column for his school paper and then sends off pieces to Lester Bangs (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the editor of Creem magazine. Lester becomes William’s mentor, offering him sorely needed sage advice about honesty in journalism and ‘to thine own self be true’.

Lester asks William to do an article on Stillwater, a band opening for Black Sabboth one night and while no one will believe that William is a journalist, he does get a lucky break when the band turns him into their mascot and groupie Penny Lane (Kate Hudson) says she’ll look out for him. Suddenly, Rolling Stone magazine gets a hold of one of his articles, and unaware of his age, the editor asks William to tour with the band for a possible cover story on them. Despite the hesitancy of his mother Elaine (Frances McDormand), William gets to go on a cross country bus tour with the band in order to gather material for his article. Stillwater bandmembers, especially Russell Hammond (Billy Crudup), befriend William figuring it’s better to turn a critic whom they call “the enemy” into a friend to make them ‘look cool’.rather than having him write prose critical of them. So, William gets his first lesson in understanding what Lester’s warnings were all about. He can’t play sides against the middle. Making the band look cool is not William’s job.

As William tours, he gets to see sex, drugs and rock & roll up close and becomes friends with Penny Lane who’s carrying on a sexual relationship with Russell. What William doesn’t get is his all-important interview with Russell who keeps putting him off.

The problem with the film is that neither the story nor the characters are compelling. William comes across as a wide-eyed innocent offering little in the way of any dimension to his character. Russell and the other bandmembers are conflicted over their relationship to each other but we never really get to know any of them, not even Russell. Penny Lane is an airheaded rock groupie spouting a bunch of fantasy nonsense and everyone is in his/her own separate world. William is just not up to the task of tying it all together for us. It’s as if Crowe remembered the mere facts of his youthful trek into the rock wilderness but none of its essence. McDormand fares the best here but her Elaine is extremely off kilter and she’s starting to get typecast, I think, for playing wacky ladies.

Also featues: Jason Lee (Jeff Bebe), Zooey Deschanel (Anita Miller), Anna Paquin (Polexia Aphrodisia), Terry Chen (Ben Fong-Torres), Bijou Phillips (Estrella Star).

Lotta says: Almost Famous is all buzz without substance. Rated R for language, drug content, and brief nudity. Even the music played by the band Stillwater (actually created by Peter Frampton and Crow) is not particularly pleasing.

Reviewed 2/1/01