Like all good movies, Almost Famous seems to nudge your dreams and your fears. The film knows most of us have felt like outsiders at least once in our lives and would have done anything just to belong.
Although the details of this film belong to a specific time and place, the heart of the story belongs to everyone.
The centre of Almost Famous is William Miller, played brilliantly by newcomer Patrick Fugit. The two biggest influences in his life are his puritanical mother (Frances McDormand) and his rock and roll. By the time William turns 15, the music has won. Spurred on by the passionate rock critic Lester Bangs (Philip Seymour Hoffman), William manages to land a plum assignment for Rolling Stone: a profile of a rising band called Stillwater. Lester tries to impart some wisdom on this gonzo kid, warning him that the allure of the rock musicians can sully journalistic integrity.
However, once on the road William is fascinated by a host of interesting characters, especially Stillwater's soulful guitarist, Russell (Billy Crudup) and the young groupie Penny Lane (Kate Hudson). William watches Penny float just above the pain in her life, and as Penny descends his affection grows.
The film explores the difficulty of journalism, and how one reconciles being both a participant and an observer. This conflict is amplified in William, whose youth and inexperience come crashing over him every time his mother phones. He has few defence mechanisms to protect himself from emotional entanglements, or from the seductiveness of seeing behind the doors once slammed in his face.
Writer/director Cameron Crowe and Fugit wonderfully show William's naiveté, from his incessant note-taking to the expressions that flicker across his face when he doesn't quite know what to do next. William's major struggle is between the man he is trying to be and the boy he is leaving behind; the abandoment of innocence is a poignant theme in the film.
Almost Famous is an epic love letter to rock and roll and the youth who stood behind it. Cameron Crowe based the film on his experience as a writer for Rolling Stone, and the humour in the screenplay not only lifts up the film, but lets you know there is a keen observer behind the camera. Crowe's affection for the material is clear from his lovingly photographed characters to his impeccable rendering of the early 1970s.
The refreshing, subtle performances are what keep fondness from becoming saccharine. The actors, Fugit, Crudup, Hudson and McDormand, are wonderful, and Philip Seymour Hoffman's portrayal of the dogmatic, valiantly non-hip Lester Bangs is a delight.
Almost Famous is about the journey of becoming: becoming an adult, becoming famous, becoming cool. Like many people, the main character is trying to rise above his insecurities. But even if you are completely cool today, this film will take you back to the time when you were almost there.