Almost Famous (2000), Cameron Crowe’s thinly fictionalized autobiography, is deftly poised between rosy affection, thoughtful remembrance, and giddy adolescent awe. As perhaps it should be.
Revisiting the mid-seventies rock scene, the story of 15-year-old William (Crowe’s stand-in, played by Patrick Fugit) sent by Rolling Stone magazine to tour with an up-and-coming band (Stillwater, a fictional amalgamation of real-life bands The Allman Brother, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and others) has the sensory immediacy of a treasured memory, from the crackle of vinyl on a bedroom turntable to the view of an arena concert from the stage. Crowe exposes the sex, drugs, infighting, and indiscretions of the music scene (perhaps with more discretion than necessary despite the R rating) without ever losing its faith in the power of music.
Billy Crudup and Jason Lee co-star as the clashing Stillwater bandleaders, Frances McDormand is William’s mother, and Zooey Deschanel is William’s older sister, who gifts him with her record collection when she leaves home, but Kate Hudson is the golden girl of the film. She literally glows as the giving, impulsive, always surprising Penny Lane, the young (in fact, underage) groupie (or should I say Band-Aid) in love with Stillwter guitarist Crudup. Fairuza Balk and Anna Paquin play fellow Band-Aids and Philip Seymour Hoffman is marvelous as William’s (and Crowe’s real life) mentor Lester Bangs.