Almost Famous is a very pleasant film for most of its running time, and if that’s what you’re looking for, you’ll want to watch it. You’ll also want to see it if you’re a fan of the ’70s Rock ‘n’ Roll culture, as the film aims to accurately represent that. It has a great sense of time and place that you believe you’re truly there, for most of the time. And it also has a coming-of-age story buried within. It’s a film of great depth and it’s easily enjoyable.
The film stars Patrick Fugit as a 15-year-old boy named William Miller. He loves music, so much so that he has to sneak in his listening time as his ultra-conservative mother (Frances McDormand). thinks it will take him down a bad road. He writes articles to magazines about his favorite — and not-so-favorite — bands, and is eventually given an opportunity to work with Rolling Stone magazine. He just has to follow a band called Stillwater on the road and on their tour for an undetermined amount of time in order to figure out 3,000 words to write about them. That’s totally the thing that a boy of fifteen years should be doing.
Reluctantly, his mother allows him to go, giving him the always solid advice “Don’t do drugs!” before saying goodbye for what probably feels like a lifetime to her. He’s only supposed to be gone for four days, but when was the last time that a plan came together? He’s not going to be coming back anytime soon, as the life on the road is going to consume him, much like it has already taken over the lives of the band’s groupies, Penny Lane (Kate Hudson), Polexia (Anna Paquin), and Sapphire (Fairuza Balk).
There are so many interesting things to take in here. There’s the relationship between the band members — in particular the lead singer (Jason Lee) and the “guitarist with mystique” (Billy Crudup) — the one between the band and the groupies or William, “The Enemy,” the interactions between William and the groupies, and even the one with William and his mother. Oh, and we can’t forget the one between William’s “normal” life and the one of rock stardom. There’s so much to take in, so much to pay attention to, that I found myself thinking about watching Almost Famous again right away, just so that I could absorb it all.
It does get a little tiresome at times when not a whole lot is going on, but it’s during these points when you realize just how perfectly the era is captured. You pay attention to the small details that are there only for the hard workers, and you feel like you’ve been transported back in time to a different time and place. That’s a feeling that only the best of movies perfectly capture, and Almost Famous definitely gets it right.
I would have preferred a bit more conflict, though, as it would have kept things entertaining throughout. There are moments when Almost Famous starts to drag a tad, even with all the scenery gazing that you’ll be doing, and if would have been an even better film had there been some more conflict. With all the relationships that are covered, there’s a surprisingly small amount of quibbling, which was a mistake on the filmmakers’ parts, I think.
This leads to some of the relations not quite working the way they should. Some of them don’t get enough time to develop, others feel forced because they progress without any sort of conflict or even time, and others seem to dominate and you wish that they would step back and let another one take charge for a bit. I didn’t exactly buy the “love” between Penny and William, for instance, because even though they spend some time together, that aspect isn’t given a whole lot of time because whenever they’re together, another relationship is center stage.
Don’t get me wrong: Almost Famous is a very good movie, but it’s the kind of movie that has quite a few flaws — most of which you ignore while in the moment, but notice after the film concludes. I didn’t really care about any of these things while watching the movie, but sitting back and thinking about it now makes me wish that certain things would have been switched around or fixed up. These changes would have turned it into a great movie, in my opinion.
The aspect that didn’t need changing was the acting, as all of the talent assembled here does a great job. The two younger main actors, Patrick Fugit and Kate Hudson, bring so much life to their role that it’s hard to dislike them — even if neither is the most emotional actor in the world (Hudson just sort of stands around and smiles). You’d be surprised by some of the names that appear in this film. The likes of Jay Baruchel, Jimmy Fallon, Zooey Deschanel, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Rainn Wilson all show up, and I didn’t even notice half of them.
Almost Famous is a very good movie, in large part because of the way it captures the look and feel of the 1970s. Its plot stumbles around a little, and a bit more conflict would have been to everyone’s benefit, but even during those slow times, you can sit back and lose yourself in the experience. It’s immersive, an easy watch, and contains enough characters and relationships to always give you something to think about.