ALMOST FAMOUS Tests Objectivity
"One day, you will be cool," William Millerís sister tells him in Almost Famous. Leaving home because of their motherís strict attitude, she whispers to the 11-year old, "Look under my bed. What you find there will set you free." What the wide-eyed youngster discovers is a stash of rock and roll records. Although listening to these records fails to make him "cool," it leads him to an adventure deep within the music world of the 1970s. Assigned by Rolling Stone magazine to cover the tour of Stillwater, a group on the cusp of fame, he becomes a rock journalist at 15. This engaging coming-of-age movie depicts Williamís struggle for objectivity in the midst of people he idolizes.
Unfortunately, Iím facing a similar dilemma with this review. Billy Crudup (Jesusí Son), who plays the lead guitarist of the rock band William (Patrick Fugit) must write about, is one of my favorite actors. I even had the privilege of introducing him at a special event during last yearís Telluride Film Festival. Itís not easy for me to be objective about his work --- especially when heís so terrific in this film. (See what I mean?)
Anyhow, Crudup delivers another compelling performance here. In the role of Russell Hammond, he projects the charisma of a rock star, combining egotism with flashes of humanity. When his character confides in William that he is a much better musician than the rest of the band, Crudup does so in such a convincing way, itís like overhearing it backstage at a real rock concert. On the other hand, when he shouts how much he loves the group, he sounds a bit ingenuous, subtly revealing Russellís ambivalent feelings about his colleagues.
After befriending William, Russell tries to evade an interview with him. Speaking to the boyís over-protective mother on the phone, he uses all the charm he can muster, but it doesnít work on her. Oscar-winner Frances McDormand (Fargo) portrays Williamís college professor mom with so much authority, I wanted to snap "Yes, Maíam!" right along with Russell whenever she issued an order. "I know all about your Valhalla decadence," she informs the rock musician, obviously worried about her sonís involvement with people in the drug culture.
"Your mother freaked me out," Russell complains to the young reporter. But he canít help thinking about the things she said --- such as "Be bold and make a statement; itís not too late to amount to something."
Helping Russell amount to something becomes a major task for William. He worries about Russellís treatment of Penny Lane (Kate Hudson), a young woman who follows the band everywhere. Even though the lad has fallen for her himself, he knows she loves Russell. Sadly, the guitarist is committed to someone else but leads Penny on anyway. Hudson (200 Cigarettes) simply glows in this key role. Her humorous and poignant scenes with young William are among the filmís many highlights. Happily, Hudson inherited a flair for comedy as well as good looks from her famous mother, Goldie Hawn. Sheís especially amusing when tempting William to go with her to Morocco.
In addition to the wonderful Frances McDormand, Billy Crudup, and Kate Hudson, this involving movie includes flawless performances by Jason Lee (Chasing Amy) as Stillwaterís volatile lead singer and Philip Seymour Hoffman (The Talented Mr. Ripley) as Williamís "uncool" journalism mentor who advises the youngster to be "honest and unmerciful."
Despite these fine actors, Almost Famous would not be the special movie it is without newcomer Patrick Fugit as William. Admitting his latest movie is autobiographical, filmmaker Cameron Crowe (Jerry Maguire) searched for the perfect boy for this part. After all, whoever was selected would be portraying the writer/director himself at that age. Fortunately, Fugit was an excellent choice. His William emerges as a funny, awkward, idealistic, and endearing young hero.
(Released by DreamWorks Pictures/Columbia Pictures and rated "R" for language, drug content, and brief nudity.)