As rock 'n' roll movies go, if Spinal Tap goes to eleven, Almost Famous peaks out at 7. Writer/producer/director Cameron Crowe's latest is a romantic comedy with Billy Crudup as Russell Hammond, a mysterious lead-guitar superstar of the band Stillwater, which boasts all the buffoonery and bombast of future VH1 "Where Are They Now" artists with about 1/10th the talent.
|Patrick Fugit as William Miller
Though Crudup gets top billing, new kid on the marquee, and Corey Feldman-lookalike, Patrick Fugit is the tuning peg around which the e-string of the movie's action revolves. Fugit plays William Miller, a fifteen-year-old rock writer befriended by real-life renegade journalist Lester Bangs, almost convincingly played by Philip Seymour Hoffman (Boogie Nights, The Talented Mr. Ripley).
Tossed in, road hard, and put away nearly dead from a Quaalude overdose is Penny Lane, played with Drew Barrymore preciousness by Kate Hudson. Penny's a super groupie whose gaggle of girlfriends, "the Band Aids," are obviously inspired by the Girls Together Outrageously, whose plaster-encased sexual exploits are the stuff of many a rock 'n' roll cream dream.
While great rock 'n' roll movies like Spinal Tap and A Hard Days Night tackle such quintessential questions as "Which way's the stage?", "Whose clean old man is this?" and "Am I really fifty?" with cheeky good humor, this movie's plot is a syrupy soap opera filled with "ships that pass in the night" and "didn't the last six weeks mean anything to you?" heartstring zingers. Alas, Hudson and the Band Aids trail behind Stillwater's "Almost Famous" 1973 American tour like a wake of pubescent piranhas. Cute as they are, Kate and the crew are passed around like appetizers at a record release party while the young writer William tries to define what's on and off the record regarding the tour's carnal comings and goings. Should he violate the trust of his new rock star friends and truly tell the tale of their human frailties or give into the unlimited excess of backstage access? When in doubt, William calls up Lester Bangs,
who is always home and usually awake listening to Guess Who records.
Among the handful of other half-baked sub-plots is William's attempt to corner Russell for the illusive interview that will turn his first feature story into a piece worthy of the coveted cover of Rolling Stone. It's something both the scribe and his subjects want but are too hip to mention for fear of being one with "the enemy" of mainstream acceptance.
| ||Kate Hudson as Penny Lane
Not to forget Francis "Fargo" McDormand, as William's mother Elaine, a college professor whose less than progressive views drove her adventure-seeking daughter Anita (Zooey Deschanel how many Scrabble points is that name worth?!) as far away from the family unit as possible. Despite her quasi-liberal occupation, Elaine refers to Simon & Garfunkel's songs as "the poetry of drugs and promiscuity" and insists that William call her twice a day and not miss any exams while he's on the road with Stillwater. Not surprisingly, considering her talent for subtlety, McDormand is both comedic and convincing in her role as William's single mom, a woman who wants the most for her kids, even though she understands the least about the times in which they live.
So, what's it all mean? Killer bong hit or skunk beer backwash? Two hours later, Almost Famous is a stylish recreation of a time when classic rock was king and "the music" really mattered at least to the bands that defined the times, the girls who followed them and the hopelessly less-than-cool souls who wrote about them. If you were old enough to remember back when Led Zeppelin ruled the skies, Sabbath scoured the underworlds, and have a soft spot for melodramatic nostalgia, then maybe Cameron's creation will be worth your time and money. Personally, I expect more from a rock 'n' roll movie than an 8-track tape loop of quaint counter-cultural references and would rather go under a series of Spinal Taps.
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