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Almost Famous

-by Erich Schoeneweiss

Every once in a while a film comes along for me that some how manages to speak to me directly.  Sometimes the films grab me in different ways: Star Wars grabbed my imagination, Raiders of the Lost Ark was my sense of adventure, Cinema Paradiso/Ed Wood exemplified my love of film, and Clerks made it OK for me to be a geek.  Almost Famous reached deeper for me. I am not a rock-n-roll aficionado.  I can't tell you what track 4 of Led Zeppelin's second album is called (hell, for that matter I can't even tell you what the name of the second album was).  I was in elementary school at the time this film takes place.  So it's not the music that got me.  I never wanted to be a rock star, so that's not why I love this film so much.  I love this film because in so many ways I was and am William Miller (played brilliantly by Patrick Fugit…AMPAS please remember him come Oscar season). I am that guy who has always wanted to be cool, but have always been right on the fringes of it. I've dated strippers, hung with rock-n-roll guys who thought they were "golden gods", drank my ass off for years and years, and experienced my share of drugs.  But none of that makes me cool.  There's something about being cool where you just know it, you've either got it or you don't. But, and here's the big but…there's always a price to pay for that coolness.

When we first meet William Miller he is a precocious outsider at school because he is younger than his classmates.  His sister opens his world to the freedoms rock-n-roll has to offer and he is forever changed.  He surrounds himself with music and as we see him again several years later he is a fifteen year old who is striving to be a rock journalist.  He meets Lester Bangs (Phillip Seymour Hoffman in quite possibly his most understated and brilliant performance yet.  Bangs is Obi Wan to William's Luke) and manages to finagle his first assignment from him for Cream magazine by uttering nary a word.  From here it is a roller-coaster adventure for him as he sweet talks the band Sweetwater into getting him backstage and meets Penny Lane (Kate Hudson, you can't help but fall for her here).  William introduces Penny to Sweetwater's guitarist, and true talent behind the band, Russell Hammond (Billy Crudup in a strong performance) not for a moment realizing the history that already exists between the two. One night backstage soon turns into several weeks on the road with them as William successfully pitches a story on the band to Rolling Stone magazine. Along the way the relationship between William and Penny grows while the relationship between Russell and Penny is slowly revealed. It is easy to see that William is in love with this mysterious woman who refuses to divulge her first name and asks him to travel to Morocco with her.  He is introduced to a world of booze, drugs, women, jealousy, friendships, loyalty, and betrayal…all of which is his responsibility to report on for the magazine.

The problem arises when he begins to like this world too much.  There's a line in the best scene of the movie (if you watch VH1 you've seen it), the band is at odds and no one is speaking.  The Elton John song Tiny Dancers plays on the radio and one by one everyone on the bus begins singing, thus healing their wounds.  William turns to Penny and tells her he has to go home, she tells him he is home.

Every generation is said to have a voice, I believe Cameron Crowe is the voice of my generation.  There's something about his characters that just resonate with honesty (with maybe the exception of Jerry Maguire).  Lloyd Dobler standing in a rainstorm depressed because he just confessed his love to Diane Court and she gave him a pen.  Kyra Sedgwick reaching across and unlocking Campbell Scott's car door in Singles.  His characters are real and Almost Famous is loaded with so many real moments. Almost Famous is I believe a round about study of what it is to be cool from the point of view of someone who isn't.  That's why I loved this film.  I understood William's urge to be cool, his attraction to these people, and in the end I also understood what he had to do and why (unlike my partner I believe in giving away as little about a movie as possible).  There comes a time in most of our lives where we come to accept ourselves for who we are, that's when one truly becomes cool.

When this movie hits DVD you'll know I'm not cool because I'll be sitting at home all night watching it over and over again.   GO SEE THIS MOVIE.  I can't stress that enough. 

Best film of the year.

Back to work….

Almost Famous: 4 Griffins (out of 4) My first 4 Griffin review

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