Almost Famous made me cry. I don’t know if it was because I watched it at 11pm on a school night, or because I drank multiple cups of coffee during the film, or even if it was because I fell in love with Russell Hammond, but tears fell down my cheeks as the credits rolled. The film follows William Miller, Penny Lane, and the band Stillwater across the country as the “mid-level band struggles with the pressures of fame,” to roughly quote the script. William’s whole pretext is that he’s an incredibly smart kid who’s skipped a few grades and graduating high school at 15. His “rebellious” sister has run away from their “intense” mother to become a flight attendant, and he has just gotten an offer from Rolling Stone to travel on tour with Stillwater and write a story on them. It’s easy, all he has to do is interview the members, stay off drugs, and make them “look cool,” according to his editor, his mother, and the lead singer.
If you couldn’t already tell, this plot certainly leaves room for shenanigans. There’s infidelity, drugs, sex, rock n’ roll – but on the other hand, love, clarity, and some personal growth. I won’t spoil the ending, but the William you meet in the beginning that is eager to make friends with the band isn’t the same William as the one sitting in the private plane as they fly through an electric storm, spilling secrets left and right. It wouldn’t be a true drama if there wasn’t an emotional falling out between main characters.
That being said, there is a moment towards the end after the band members have spoken with a fact-checker from Rolling Stone about William’s article that illustrates the spirit of the movie perfectly. “Maybe we just don’t see ourselves the way we really are,” says Russell, the guitarist with mystique. Jeff, the lead singer, has just gone off on a rant about how he never said half of the quotes William used in the article – truth is, he did, but he realizes he doesn’t like how he sounds.
A central frustration throughout the film is that journalists are always unmerciful to rockstars, but you begin to realize it’s the other way around. William reported what he saw and what he experienced, which was exactly what those guys didn’t want to be. You get the feeling that they spent so long trying to be “real,” that they became the stereotype. If you had to pinpoint it, the inciting incident is that phonecall from Ben Fong-Torres, illustrious editor of the Rolling Stone. Fong-Torres enables William to travel with Stillwater, thus allowing him to break out of his normalcy and experience life as he never thought possible.
The film is certainly entertaining. It’s two hours of good lines, good laughs, and certainly good music. But it also takes you on an emotional journey that one doesn’t quite expect. The characters come off as “real” rockstars, in the sense that they behave exactly as you’d expect as a young band on the rise. The only two that get any kind of substantial development, however, are Russell and Jeff, but only to a certain extent. Russell often acts in ways I don’t expect; in the end he realizes that his relationship with Penny wasn’t the most important relationship in his life – it was his relationship with William. I had spent so much time watching Russell play the moody guitarist – who did whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted – that when he called Penny to make amends, the last place I was expecting him to show up was William’s house. Too often, in dramas especially, the characters are utterly predictable. This movie was not about a band, their groupies, and their rise to fame, but a band, their fans, and how the relationships we form with people impact our lives.
The main character conflict that arises multiple times throughout the film is the dynamic between Jeff and Russell. Jeff is the stereotypical lead singer; he’s egotistical and dramatic and disheveled. Russell, while equally disheveled, is mysterious and thoughtful. He’s self-assured and confident, but it’s not misplaced. Naturally, the two are at odds and resort to fighting at least twice throughout the duration of the movie. Their conflict isn’t resolved as neatly as the emotional damage that Russell causes to William by denying all of the facts in his article (which is resolved at the very end), but you get the feeling that the band moved past egos and t-shirts and went back to their roots – which was their deep love for the music.
As a whole, Almost Famous was a wonderful success. It was interesting and intelligent, dramatic and bold, glamorous and delightfully dirty. It was a small window into a golden age- the “death throes” of rock n’ roll. It gave the viewer a chance to transport into 1970’s America, away from their theatre or bed or living room couch, and travel with rockstars. It was a success because it was larger than life, but it felt like it could be your life, if you were just a little bit more carefree and adventurous.
As a whole, Almost Famous was a wonderful success. It was interesting and intelligent, dramatic and bold, glamorous and delightfully dirty. It was a small window into a golden age- the “death throes” of rock n’ roll. It gave the viewer a chance to transport into 1970’s America, away from their theatre or bed or living room couch, and travel with rockstars. It was a success because it was larger than life, but it felt like it could be your life, if you were just a little bit more carefree and adventurous. Almost Famous was one of those movies that, had I watched it in high school, would have led me to develop a love for late 70’s rock n’ roll, brown suede, and a longing to visit Morocco. Watching it now, however, I’m left with a feeling of contentment that Almost Famous is not the real world, nor does it claim to be even a reasonable facsimile of that. William, Penny, Jeff, and the rest existed authentically as individual characters in what was certainly not “real life” for many people. It is a good movie because even the characters know that their lives, scripted within every inch, are nothing more than a circus for the rest of the world to watch.