Main cast: Billy Crudup (Russell Hammond), Frances McDormand (Elaine Miller), Kate Hudson (Penny Lane), Jason Lee (Jeff Bebe), Patrick Fugit (William Miller), and Philip Seymour Hoffman (Lester Bangs)
Director: Cameron Crowe
Embarrassing confession: I lived through the flower power era without knowing I was living through it. If I could turn back time, yes. Still, if Almost Famous, overhyped by nostalgic rock groupies and those wishing they could still indulge in drug-enhanced sex-o-ramas masquerading as movie critics, is my vicarious way to live through the era, I have my doubts. As the movie subversively depicts, this era is cruel on the female population who on the whole deludes itself into believing there is more to the meaningless one-night-stands.
Or maybe it’s just Cameron Crowe falling into the trap of depicting women as creatures who can’t distinguish sex from love. Either way, Kate Hudson’s portrayal as a groupie in denial (and in love with a married rock star) is the most heartbreaking element in this otherwise wet dream movie for the boys.
I also empathize with the mother played by the brilliantly droll Frances McDormand. If I have a 15-year son who travels across the country with a rock group like William Miller did with the group Stillwater, I will be droll too. I will also have the rehab-and-detox center admission form ready when he comes back, but that’s another story.
The 60’s nihilistic rock-and-roll era sure come to life in this movie. Production is tip-top. The music, the hysteria, the hedonism, and yes, the worship of marijuana, all are so vividly depicted here that I wish I have the memories to go with the experience.
But if the rock stars are caricatures though, the youngsters are what keep Almost Famous from being just an empty-headed paean to a time that will never happen again. Patrick Fugit plays the young, wide-eyed 15 year old who tries so hard to keep his head above the insanity with winning charm. But Kate Hudson steals the show as a Lolita-like groupie who genuinely believes that she is not a groupie because she only offers blow jobs, not full intercourse, for the Stillwater lead Russell Hammond. It just hurts to see her trying to keep her act together even after Russell abuses her again and again, and it is a testament to Mr Crowe’s respect for his subjects that he allows Ms Hudson’s character to retain her dignity even to the end. And young William Miller’s infatuation with her is bittersweet and just lovely.
In the end though, Almost Famous somehow manages to be uplifting even as it ruthlessly exposes how much people tend to hurt themselves in some deluded rush for instant gratification. Yes, the Band-Aides may one day sit back and reminisce and even laugh about how they once stupidly chased after impossible dreams like selfish rock stars, but deep inside, there may be more than just a little resentment towards those selfish men. Sometimes the sweetest fun can hurt the most, and Almost Famous drives that home with devastating accuracy.
This movie, I think, isn’t just an ode to the time when AIDS didn’t matter and one’s youth was to be wasted. It always lays open the scars and wounds, and the waste of innocence lost. I only sometimes resonate with this movie – I still think, in a way, the Stillwaters are losers in the first degree – but Mr Crowe has almost outdone himself with this movie.