Almost Famous, Cameron Crowe's fourth film, emerges as an almost-perfect paean to 1970s rock. It's a passionate, multi-layered love story, with Crowe's love of music at its core. Crowe, a writer and filmmaker of prodigious talent, uses his tightly woven script and fully realized characters to elicit career-making performances from the entire cast of up-and-coming stars.
Patrick Fugit plays 15-year-old, wide-eyed music writer William Miller who lands an assignment with Rolling Stone and hits the road with Stillwater, a fictional rock band on the brink of stardom. Before he can leave, though, he must break free from his overprotective, yet liberal mother (Frances McDormand), who demands daily phone calls that consist mainly of her leitmotif “Don't do drugs!” (She's portrayed as slightly fanatical, but what mother wouldn't panic if her teenage son went on tour with a rock band?)
Stillwater engages Miller and genuinely seems to like him, which isn't surprising considering his encyclopedic knowledge of the band's oeuvre. Consequently, Miller ignores the advice of legendary alternative rock editor, Lester Bangs (Philip Seymour Hoffman, in yet another show-stealing role), and befriends the band. “They are the enemy,” Bangs intones, to no avail.
Miller also latches onto dreamy groupy Penny Lane (Kate Hudson), who's role is not to have sex, but “to inspire the music.” Indeed, Band-Aids, as they call themselves, do a whole lot of both. Three of them deflower Miller as he's knee-deep in Post-Its, trying to make sense of the long, strange trip. Miller truly loves Penny, which makes it all the more difficult for him to stomach when the band's hotty guitar player Russell (Billy Crudup) objectifies her and trades her for $50 and a case of Heineken.
Aside from a few emotional outbursts from Stillwater's lead singer (Jason Lee), the characters glide through the film with a sense of giddy naivete and decency, which seem a bit out-of-touch with the time and the place. Perhaps that's the view of a 15 year old not yet jaded by skepticism. Or perhaps it's just Cameron Crowe.