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Almost Famous

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All-Reviews.com Movie Review: Almost Famous

Starring: Billy Crudup, Jason Lee
Director: Cameron Crowe
Rated: R
RunTime: 122 Minutes
Release Date: September 2000
Genres: Drama, Music




Review by MrBrown
3½ stars out of 4

The term "almost famous" could apply to star Billy Crudup, who has been touted by Hollywood as one of those "next best things" for the past few years--yet hasn't even come close to making a popular breakthrough. _Almost_Famous_, writer-director Cameron Crowe's hotly anticipated follow-up to his Oscar-winning _Jerry_Maguire_, has been touted as the film that will finally make the top-billed Crudup a major star. Alas, he's going to have to remain "next best thing" for at least a little while longer, for once again he has been nipped in the bud--if the movie is anyone's "coming out" film, it's co-star Kate Hudson's.

Which is not to say that Crudup doesn't do a superb job; in fact, there isn't a single bad performance from anyone in the ensemble. And although a rock band on the cusp of fame in the 1970s lies at the center of _Almost_Famous_, the film is not necessarily "about" the obvious parallel with its cast of young, on-the-verge stars. While they certainly do contribute a large part to the film's success, _Almost_Famous_ lingers in the memory because of the universality of Crowe's semi-autobiographical tale.

That fact is somewhat surprising considering how specific Crowe's seriocomic story is. William Miller (Patrick Fugit) is a precocious 15-year-old high school senior in 1973 who somehow manages to get a writing assignment for _Rolling_Stone_ magazine and finds himself on the road with Stillwater, an up-and-coming rock 'n roll band fronted by lead singer Jeff Bebe (Jason Lee) and moody lead guitarist Russell Hammond (Crudup). Whatever manner of tension goes on within the group--Jeff's jealousy of the attention lavished upon the hunkier Russell; their wild party ways--will be nothing new to anyone who's watched a single episode of VH1's _Behind_the_Music_ (or seen or read anything about the classic rock 'n roll lifestyle).

Thankfully, details such as that are not the main concern of Crowe; rather, it is the universal search for a sense of belonging and community. This is not only embodied by William--an overachiever who had skipped a few grades in school, he's been a perpetual loner and outcast--but also by Penny Lane (Hudson), a self-proclaimed "Band Aid" that travels with the band and gives them, in particular Russell, private shows of support. Setting her kind apart from groupies, says she, is her genuine love of the band's music (and of Russell). Of course, she's just kidding herself, and her journey to self-realization--and her non-romantic (though he has other ideas) friendship with William--makes the film's most affecting thread, bolstered by the terrific rapport between and work of Fugit and especially Hudson, who stands to gain the most heat off of the film with her natural and poignant performance. Not to be outdone, however, the two old pros in the cast, Philip Seymour Hoffman (getting all of Crowe's best lines as the legendary rock critic Lester Bangs) and Frances McDormand (a lock for an Oscar nod as William's well-meaning but prying mother) steal all their respective scenes.

Crowe loses his way a bit in the final third, in effect making the film a step or two away from true excellence; a comical near-death experience that prompts a rash of soul-baring confessions is contrived, and the film's tidy wrap-up is a fizzle. But the themes and emotions of the piece resonate; _Almost_Famous_ may be almost great, but that's more than enough.

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