Almost Famous is a 2000 American comedy-drama film written and directed by Cameron Crowe and starring Billy Crudup, Frances McDormand, Kate Hudson, and Patrick Fugit. It tells the story of a teenage journalist writing for Rolling Stone in the early 1970s while covering the fictitious rock band Stillwater, and his efforts to get his first cover story published.
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Cameron Crowe|
|Produced by||Cameron Crowe|
|Written by||Cameron Crowe|
Philip Seymour Hoffman
|Music by||Nancy Wilson|
|Edited by||Joe Hutshing|
|Box office||$47.4 million|
The film is semi-autobiographical, as Crowe himself was a teenage writer for Rolling Stone. It is based on his experiences touring with rock bands Poco, the Allman Brothers Band, Led Zeppelin, Eagles, and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Crowe has discussed how during this period he lost his virginity, fell in love, and met his heroes—experiences that are shared by William Miller (Fugit), the boyish main character of the film.
Although a box office bomb, the film received widespread acclaim from critics, and received four Academy Awards nominations, including a win for Best Original Screenplay. It was also awarded the 2001 Grammy Award for Best Compilation Soundtrack Album for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media. Roger Ebert hailed it the best film of the year, as well as the ninth-best film of the 2000s. It also won two Golden Globe Awards, for Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy and Best Supporting Actress – Motion Picture (Hudson). In a 2016 international poll conducted by BBC, Almost Famous was ranked the 79th greatest film since 2000.
In 1969, child prodigy William Miller struggles to fit in. His widowed mother, Elaine, has led him to believe he is thirteen years old until William's older sister, Anita, insists their mother tell him the truth: William is actually eleven. His mother started him in first grade at five years old, and he skipped fifth grade. Elaine strictly forbids rock music and other unwelcome influences on her children, driving Anita to leave home at eighteen to become a flight attendant.
In 1973, William, now fifteen, influenced by his sister's secret cache of rock albums, aspires to be a rock journalist, writing freelance articles for underground papers in San Diego. Rock journalist Lester Bangs, impressed with his writing, gives him a $35 assignment to review a Black Sabbath concert. William is barred from backstage, but when the opening band Stillwater arrives, William flatters his way in. Lead guitarist Russell Hammond takes a liking to him, partly because of William's new acquaintance with veteran groupie Penny Lane, who takes William under her wing.
Rolling Stone editor Ben Fong-Torres, believing William is older, hires him sight unseen to write an article about Stillwater and sends William on the road with the band. William interviews the members, but Russell repeatedly puts him off. Tensions between Russell and lead singer Jeff Bebe soon become evident. William, jokingly called "the enemy" because he is a journalist, begins losing his objectivity as he integrates himself into their inner circle.
The band experiences problems with promoters and venues on the tour, and hires Dennis, a professional manager. Penny has to leave before the band reaches New York, where Russell's girlfriend Leslie will join them. Stillwater "loses" Penny and her three protégé groupies to another band in a poker game; Penny acts nonchalant about it but is devastated. Meanwhile, Dennis charters a small plane so the band can play more gigs.
Penny goes to New York on her own and shows up at the restaurant where William informs the band that they will be featured on the cover of Rolling Stone. Leslie notices Penny attempting to get Russell's attention, and Penny is asked to leave. William chases her back to her hotel, where he saves her from overdosing on quaaludes.
The next day, the band flies to another gig, and the plane encounters severe weather. Believing they are about to die, band members confess their secrets to one another, while Jeff and Russell's conflicts are thrust into the open. Jeff insults Penny, but William defends her and confesses that he loves her. The plane lands safely in Tupelo, leaving everyone to ponder the changed atmosphere.
William attempts to write the article based on his notes but cannot do it. He calls Lester, who informs him he has gotten caught up in the fantasy of being part of the band and that his perceived friendships are not real, telling him to write his article and "be honest...and unmerciful."
William goes to the Rolling Stone office in San Francisco to finish the article. Fearful that the band's image will be damaged, Russell tells the magazine's fact-checker the story is untrue, killing the article and crushing William. Anita encounters a dejected William in the airport and offers to take him anywhere in the world; he chooses to go home to San Diego, where their mother is overcome by their return.
One of the groupies chastises Russell for betraying William. Russell calls Penny and asks to meet with her, but she tricks him, giving him William's home address instead. He arrives and finds himself face-to-face with William's mother, who scolds him for his behavior. Russell apologizes to William and finally gives him his interview. Russell has confirmed William's article to Rolling Stone, which runs it as a cover feature. Penny fulfills her long-standing fantasy to fly to Morocco. Stillwater again tours only by bus.
- Patrick Fugit as William Miller
- Michael Angarano as Young William
- Billy Crudup as Russell Hammond
- Frances McDormand as Elaine Miller
- Kate Hudson as Penny Lane
- Jason Lee as Jeff Bebe
- Zooey Deschanel as Anita Miller
- Anna Paquin as Polexia Aphrodisia
- Fairuza Balk as Sapphire
- Bijou Phillips as Estrella Starr
- Noah Taylor as Dick Roswell
- Philip Seymour Hoffman as Lester Bangs
- Terry Chen as Ben Fong-Torres
- Jay Baruchel as Vic Munoz
- Jimmy Fallon as Dennis Hope
- Rainn Wilson as David Felton
- Mark Kozelek as Larry Fellows
- Liz Stauber as Leslie Hammond
- Zack Ward as The Legendary Red Dog
- John Fedevich as Ed Vallencourt
- Eric Stonestreet as Sheldon the Desk Clerk
- Marc Maron as Angry Promoter
Crowe used a composite of the bands he had known to come up with Stillwater, the emerging act that welcomes the young journalist into its sphere, then becomes wary of his intentions. Stillwater was the name of a real band signed to Macon, Georgia's Capricorn Records label, which required the film's producers to obtain permission to use the name Stillwater. In an interview, real Stillwater guitarist Bobby Golden said, "They could have probably done it without permission but they probably would have had a bunch of different lawsuits. Our lawyer got in touch with them. They wanted us to do it for free and I said, "No we're not doing it for free." So we got a little bit of change out of it." Seventies rocker Peter Frampton served as a technical consultant on the film. Crowe and his then-wife, musician Nancy Wilson of Heart, co-wrote three of the five Stillwater songs in the film, and Frampton wrote the other two, with Mike McCready of Pearl Jam playing lead guitar on all of the Stillwater songs.
Crowe based the character of Penny Lane on the real-life Pennie Lane Trumbull and her group of female promoters who called themselves the Flying Garter Girls Group. Though they were not in the Flying Garter Girls group, various other women have been described as Crowe's inspiration, for instance Pamela Des Barres and Bebe Buell.
The character of William Miller's mother (played by Frances McDormand) was based on Crowe's own mother, who even showed up on the set to keep an eye on him while he worked. Though he asked his mother not to bother McDormand, the two women ended up getting along well.
Alice in Chains' guitarist/vocalist Jerry Cantrell was Crowe's first choice for the role of Stillwater bass player Larry Fellows. Cantrell is friends with Crowe and had previously appeared in two films directed by him, Singles (1992) and Jerry Maguire (1996). Cantrell was busy writing the songs for his solo album Degradation Trip and had to turn the role down. Mark Kozelek was cast instead.
Crowe took a copy of the film to London for a special screening with Led Zeppelin members Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. After the screening, Led Zeppelin granted Crowe the right to use one of their songs on the soundtrack — the first time they had ever consented to this since allowing Crowe to use "Kashmir" in Fast Times at Ridgemont High — and also gave him rights to four of their other songs in the movie itself, although they did not grant him the rights to "Stairway to Heaven" for an intended scene (on the special "Bootleg" edition DVD, the scene is included as an extra, sans the song, where the viewer is instructed by a watermark to begin playing it).
In his 2012 memoir My Cross to Bear, Gregg Allman confirms that several aspects of the movie are directly based on Crowe's time spent with the Allman Brothers Band. The scene in which Russell jumps from the top of the Topeka party house into a pool was based on something Duane Allman did: "the jumping off the roof into the pool, that was Duane—from the third floor of a place called the Travelodge in San Francisco. My brother wanted to do it again, but the cat who owned the place came out shaking his fist, yelling at him. We told that story all the time, and I have no doubt that Cameron was around for it." He also confirms that he and Dickey Betts played a joke on Crowe by claiming clauses in their contract did not allow his story to be published — just before he was to deliver it to Rolling Stone.
The Almost Famous soundtrack album was awarded the 2001 Grammy Award for Best Compilation Soundtrack Album for a Motion Picture, Television or Other Visual Media.
- Billy Crudup ("Russell Hammond") - guitar
- Jason Lee ("Jeff Bebe") - lead vocals
- John Fedevich ("Ed Vallencourt") - drums
- Mark Kozelek ("Larry Fellows") - bass guitar
Almost Famous had its premiere at the 2000 Toronto International Film Festival. It was subsequently given a limited release on September 15, 2000, in 131 theaters where it grossed $2.3 million on its first weekend. It was given a wider release on September 22, 2000, in 1,193 theaters where it grossed $6.9 million on its opening weekend. The film went on to make $32.5 million in North America and $14.8 million in the rest of the world for a worldwide total of $47.4 million against a $60 million budget.
Almost Famous received widespread critical acclaim. It currently holds an 89% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 166 reviews, with an average rating of 7.9/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Almost Famous, with its great ensemble performances and story, is a well-crafted, warm-hearted movie that successfully draws you into its era."  The film also holds a score of 90 out of 100 on Metacritic, based on 38 reviews, indicating "universal acclaim."
Film critic Roger Ebert gave the film four out of four stars and described it as "funny and touching in so many different ways." In his review for The New York Times, A.O. Scott wrote, "The movie's real pleasures are to be found not in its story but in its profusion of funny, offbeat scenes. It's the kind of picture that invites you to go back and savor your favorite moments like choice album cuts." Time magazine's Richard Corliss praised the film's screenplay for "giving each character his reasons, making everyone in the emotional debate charming and compelling, creating fictional people who breathe in a story with an organic life." In her review for the L.A. Weekly, Manohla Dargis wrote that "the film shimmers with the irresistible pleasures that define Hollywood at its best—it's polished like glass, funny, knowing and bright, and filled with characters whose lives are invariably sexier and more purposeful than our own." Rolling Stone magazine's Peter Travers wrote, "Not since A Hard Day's Night has a movie caught the thrumming exuberance of going where the music takes you." In his review for Newsweek, David Ansen wrote, "Character-driven, it relies on chemistry, camaraderie, a sharp eye for detail and good casting." Entertainment Weekly put it on its end-of-the-decade, "best-of" list, saying, " Every Cameron Crowe film is, in one way or another, about romance, rock & roll, and his romance with rock & roll. This power ballad of a movie, from 2000, also happens to be Crowe's greatest (and most personal) film thanks to the golden gods of Stillwater and their biggest fan, Kate Hudson's incomparable Penny Lane."
Entertainment Weekly gave the film an "A−" rating and Owen Gleiberman praised Crowe for depicting the 1970s as "an era that found its purpose in having no purpose. Crowe, staying close to his memories, has gotten it, for perhaps the first time, onto the screen." In his review for the Los Angeles Times, Kenneth Turan praised Philip Seymour Hoffman's portrayal of Lester Bangs: "Superbly played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, more and more the most gifted and inspired character actor working in film, what could have been the cliched portrait of an older mentor who speaks the straight truth blossoms into a marvelous personality." However, in his review for The New York Observer, Andrew Sarris felt that "none of the non-musical components on the screen matched the excitement of the music. For whatever reason, too much of the dark side has been left out." Desson Howe, in his review for the Washington Post, found it "very hard to see these long-haired kids as products of the 1970s instead of dressed up actors from the Seattle-Starbucks era. I couldn't help wondering how many of these performers had to buy a CD copy of the song and study it for the first time."
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