Almost Famous
***.5 GM
Starring: Patrick Fugit, Kate Hudson, Billy Crudup, Frances McDormand, Jason Lee, Fairuza Balk, Anna Paquin, Philip Seymour Hoffman

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With High Fidelity and now Almost Famous, I'm starting to hope for a trend towards movies about hardcore music lovers, or music geeks, in Cusack's and my case. Or maybe the music lovers in Almost Famous grow up to be the surly music geeks in High Fidelity - but chances are they don't really ever grow up at all, which is a mixed blessing at best.

This is the story of William Miller (Patrick Fugit), a kid that fell in love with music at an early age despite his overprotective mother (Frances McDormand), and happens to be a brilliant writer to boot. Through persistence, he manages to meet rock journalist Lester Bangs (Philip Seymour Hoffman), who gives him a break writing for Creem magazine at age fifteen, which becomes a springboard to Rolling Stone magazine - the enemy of musicians everywhere, unless they're on the cover. While trying to report on Black Sabbath, he mixes up with the band Stillwater, which includes "please think I'm cool" lead singer Jeff Bebe (Jason Lee) and "destined-for-greatness" guitarist Russell Hammond (Billy Crudup), and their 'band-aids' (not groupies) Penny Lane (Kate Hudson), Sapphire (Fairuza Balk) and Polexia (Anna Paquin). He lives on the road with this rising mid-level band as they tour, living the 1973 rock star life and trying to deal with all sorts of new experiences with the amazing level-headed forthrightness that comes with being an intelligent kid, and struggling to maintain the objectivity he needs to be a journalist around these people that accept him for who he is.

It's a really good film. It might be stretching the imagination a little bit that this rock band would hang out with a goofy-looking teenager, legitimately enjoy his company and start to trust him so much, and even more stretching might be involved when it comes to the head babe band-aid forming such a bond with him... but not only is this a semi-autobiographical effort on the part of director Cameron Crowe, but it was a different time then. A time when rock and roll was thought to be more than a way to get a lot of money, drugs and vaginas - back then, they were still being regarded as the benefits of pursuing the true artistry of music and lyricism (whether it was the truth or not), rather than being the main subject matter of near every goddam song, kids. It was a time when it was still struggling to maintain some sort of integrity and include everybody in the groove, even as the idealism of the 60s was dying. A time when a rock band might conceivably take an awkward kid with respectable musical knowledge in and just ride the tour bus all over the country with him, and start to think of him as part of the family. Maybe that sounds pretentious (which is part of the reason I don't put any stock in music critics anyway - overanalysis of music can often dilute it), but I could buy it.

Fugit was good as the somewhat awkward smart kid from an odd family that finds his freedom in music, reminding me of a couple people I know in similar boats. Crudup is charismatic as the 'golden god' of rock that clashes with his lead singer - Jason Lee still kinda playing that cool Jason Lee character he usually plays, but with the volume turned down a bit. Hudson is interesting as the deluded free spirit that thinks her chosen band member truly loves her, while the awkward kid she hangs out with all the time falls in love with her. I really liked Stevie Wonder's "My Cherie Amour" being played while William lovingly watches Penny get her stomach pumped. It's a great weird moment where you can realize how you feel about a person, seeing something oddly beautiful about them at some of the strangest and lowest points of their lives.

It also helps point out a lot about what music journalism really is - lots of people want to live the rock and roll lifestyle, but only a select few are talented/attractive enough to make it through. So people who can string together some cool sentences made up legitimate-sounding reasons to partake in the life as much as they can. The kids who can write with skill are rarely the cool kids, and as Lester Bangs said, hanging out with rock stars will make a person feel as cool as they can be. Underneath that, though, there has to be a genuine appreciation for all sorts of music, from Elton John to LL Cool J, and the drive to be as close to the creation of that music as possible, or else the writing isn't going to be worth reading. These days, of course, it's generally considered a whole lot cooler if you hate most music instead of finding the good in it. It's hard to reconcile a love of music with some of the over-produced dance monkeys that are so ridiculously popular today. True, it's another kind of music to appreciate, and it definitely has its place, but it has absolutely NO business being so omnipresent while people who actually write, sing and perform their songs instead of stripping and lip-synching while they play over the PA are overshadowed.

Sigh... I could rant about music for hours, but no one is ever convinced and no one ever really listens. Almost Famous is a good flick. Hope you like it, too.

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