movie film review | chris tookey

Almost Famous

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  Almost Famous Review
Tookey's Rating
9 /10
Average Rating
8.00 /10
William Miller: Patrick Fugit , Russell Hammond: Billy Crudup , Elaine Miller: Frances: McDormand
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Directed by: Cameron Crowe
Written by: Cameron Crowe

Released: 2000
Genre: DRAMA
Origin: US
Colour: C
Length: 125


Expect a no-holds-barred account of a rock band on tour in 1973, and you may be disappointed. Virtually all the sex and drug-taking takes place behind closed doors, and life on the road is mostly bathed in the forgiving light of nostalgia. But that's not what this movie is about. It is a coming-of-age tragi-comedy about a 15 year-old boy (Patrick Fugit), an aspiring rock journalist based on the teenage Crowe himself, discovering first love and first principles along the road to manhood.

Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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Cameron Crowe's follow-up to Jerry Maguire is a lovely, sweet-natured movie - and very nearly a great one.
It's enjoyable as a poignant love story, thanks to the wide-eyed gawkiness of young Fugit and a luminous portrayal of the groupie he loves, played with a delightful mixture of lewdness and naivety by Goldie Hawn's daughter Kate Hudson. Everything to do with their burgeoning relationship is beautifully done. Everyone who sees it will be reminded of his or her own first emotions on falling in love, both painful and sweet.
The film is even more astute, and far more unusual, as an account of the birth of a journalist and social commentator- one reason, I suspect, why the film has gone down rather better with critics than with the general public.
The title Almost Famous describes not only the fictitious rock band on view, but also the fate of every good writer. Even though he is at the peak of a successful career, Crowe must know that he is never going to be famous as, say, Tom Cruise, who starred in the last picture he created.
Philip Seymour Hoffman isn't on screen for long, but he's central to the movie as real-life rock critic Lester Bangs, bemusedly finding himself an elder statesman while still in his twenties, and offering plenty of good advice to his young protege.
Lester's counsel, delivered with an endearing air of "I can't believe I'm pontificating like this", is to be honest and merciless, not to try to be "cool" or fashionable, and not to let one's judgement be corrupted by friendship - sound advice for journalists in general, and critics in particular, assuming they have any judgement to start with.
In those days, of course, long before the current craze for "celebrity critics", it was unnecessary to advise that you should always write the copy that goes out under your own name.
One weakness of Almost Famous is that it doesn't delve deeply into the clash between rock celebrity ethics on the one hand, and middle-class, "respectable" values on the other.
Promiscuity is treated non-judgementally, as a part of growing up, with no short-term or long-term ill effects.
Drug abuse is played for laughs, and comically denounced by the older generation, represented by the hero's mum. It's a tribute to Frances McDormand that she stops this character from descending into caricature. She finds vast depths of maternal concern, and makes totally credible the young hero's love for her, as well as his horror at the way she keeps showing him up in front of his friends.
Two of the most telling moments occur when she confronts the group's far too easy-going lead (charmingly played by Billy Crudup) with his own bad behaviour.
Any film about a rock band on the road has to cope with comparisons to This Is Spinal Tap…And this band doesn't quite come alive. The squabbles about artistic integrity versus commercialism ring hollow, since the band palpably isn't all that good, or all that pretentious. Most of the music in the movie is disappointingly second-rate.
Perhaps this serves Crowe's purpose, which is partly to show that rock is (or was) not merely a form of cultural rebellion, but also an attempt by its practitioners and commentators to prolong adolescence beyond any known time-limit. Hence, I think, the barbed and apparently gratuitous reference to the unlikelihood of Mick Jagger still going on stage at the age of 50.
But Almost Famous mostly avoids the acerbic, and settles for being immensely likeable. It contains delightful scenes of drama and comedy, and it's especially attractive for the way it respects its characters and allows them to reveal themselves with looks and tiny actions, rather than through dialogue. But it's a bit too polite and ingratiating, slightly over-willing to take the easy, comic option. And the scenes at the Rolling Stone offices don't ring true: they're facile and savour of TV sitcom.
Crowe might have done better to have taken Bangs' advice and been more merciless. There's a flabbiness about the film - it feels ten minutes too long - and his affection for his characters means that he's never as hard on them as he might have been.
Kate Hudson's groupie tells our young hero "You're too sweet for rock'n'roll", and Lester Bangs complains "There's nothing controversial about you". Both comments apply equally to the movie. And though they don't diminish it too much as intelligent, humane entertainment, they do weaken it as art.

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