Almost Famous

on September 15, 2000 by Kevin Courrier
Cameron Crowe makes romantic films about finding authenticity in the things he loves most. And, as he demonstrated, in "Say Anything," "Singles" and "Jerry Maguire," Crowe often makes this quest with an ample supply of generous humor, a whimsical slyness, and a true compassion that never turns treacly.

In "Almost Famous," he's now turned that devoted lens onto his most personal subject yet--his beginnings as a rock & roll critic in the mid-'70s. As one might expect, given his closeness to the subject, Crowe comes up with mixed results.

William Miller (Patrick Fugit), based on Crowe, is a 15-year-old boy in San Diego who is totally in love with rock and dreams of being a critic. His very protective mother, Elaine (Frances McDormand), on the other hand, has other ideas. But after meeting maverick rock scribe Lester Bangs (Philip Seymour Hoffman), William becomes obsessed with the idea. He decides to do a feature on his favorite group, Stillwater, and their lead guitarist, Russell Hammond (Billy Crudup), for "Rolling Stone." As he tries to keep his sanity on the road, William also falls head over heels for Penny Lane (Kate Hudson), a groupie who's in love with Hammond. "Almost Famous" is about William's rites of passage as both a writer and an adolescent.

When Crowe is concentrating on the glitter and decadence of the rock milieu, with its wild assortment of characters, the film is a funny and poignant tale about the grinding insanity of life on the road. But William is a little too virtuous a presence in the film. It's funny and oddly charming when William's mother lectures Russell Hammond about sex, drugs, and rock & roll. But when William starts dispensing homilies, the movie turns solemn. Which is why "Almost Famous" is almost great. Starring Billy Crudup, Kate Hudson, Patrick Fugit, Frances McDormand, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Jason Lee. Directed and written by Cameron Crowe. Produced by Cameron Crowe and Ian Bryce. A DreamWorks release. Drama. Rated R for language, drug content and brief nudity. Running time: 125 min

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