It’s a bus full of rock stars….and no one makes eye contact. The tension is so high, you could cut a knife through it. The band has been fighting again and are thisclose to “really” breaking up this time. It’s the scene where someone starts a sweeping apology, or heated accusation, or an awkward joke designed to relieve audience discomfort—but none of this happens. Instead, one by one, the characters begin to sing along with Tiny Dancer on the bus stereo. Instantly—all is forgiven. It’s a magical scene that succeeds due to director/screenwriter Cameron Crowe’s astounding ability to create a sense of intimacy and realism with his otherwise outlandish characters: on-the-cusp rock-n-roll band, Stillwater, a slew of Band-Aids (i.e., music-groupies), and William (Patrick Fugit), a 15-year old music journalist who accompanies them on their nation-wide bus tour.
Almost Famous details the growing pains of these characters on the cusp of fame, but set in a time where rock-n-roll is dying; we meet them on their way up as the thing they collectively love most is on the way out. Despite this existential tension, the film is hilarious thanks to its skilled ensemble. For millennials who’ve only met How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days-Kate Hudson, go meet Almost Famous-Kate Hudson ASAP. She is magnetic as Penny Lane, a Band-Aid who always has her heart in the most painful of places. If you’re reluctant to watch groupie culture, rest assured that there are several empowering character arcs for the women in the film that don’t all conclude with riding off into the sunset with a man on a tour bus. In terms of Crowe’s other films, there’s no Renee Zellweger being “had at hello” here, or Cameron Diaz insisting that swallowing a man’s come “really means something”—and thank god. In many ways, Almost Famous is weirdly Crowe’s most pro-feminist movie to date.
To me, something about Crowe’s Almost Famous feels uniquely personal. Maybe it’s the fact that Fugit could’ve played a blue-eyed teenage version of Crowe (meta-casting?), or that the movie centers on a writer (meta-screenwriting?), or that the way the protagonist is written makes it easier to see the film through William’s eyes rather than to watch him in it (meta-directing?). Yes, Almost Famous is a great rock-tribute, but it is also deeply empathetic in a way Jerry McGwire and Vanilla Sky are not—you feel the pain and frustration of all the characters as though we are experiencing their growing pains ourselves. It’s a fun feeling to experience with a movie that’s already fun to watch.
Watch it When: You’re in the mood for a rock dramedy more serious than This is Spinal Tap and less cheesy than Empire Records.
While You Watch: What is it about music that makes it capable of creating instant harmony between people?