Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Almost Famous

2000, US, directed by Cameron Crowe

After the calculatedly feel-good Jerry Maguire, Cameron Crowe delivered this far looser, far less commercially successful, and much superior riff on his own past, dredging up his early professional career as a writer for Rolling Stone for an affectionate, beguiling portrait of the end of rock and roll, from the perspective of the tour bus. Crowe skilfully recreates a very particular mood of youthful abandon that transcends the period while also celebrating its specificity, with rock music on the cusp of a move from raw, social irresponsibility to careful corporate packaging, a fact recognized early on by the rock critic Lester Bangs, played with great gusto here by Philip Seymour Hoffman, who milks Bangs's soliloquies to perfection. Even as Bangs expresses his concern about rock's death rattle, though, he embraces the notion, like others in the film, that music still really matters, that it could still, just, change the world, part of what gives the film the air of a perfectly-realized time capsule.

In the lead role, debutant Patrick Fugit is occasionally a little unsteady, but the supporting cast is extremely strong, with Kate Hudson especially good as groupie (or 'band aide') Penny Lane; Hudson delivers easily her best performance, encapsulating Penny's brassiness and essential vulnerability, while there's great affection and generosity in Crowe's writing and direction of the part. There is a certain soft-edged neatness to the ending, but Crowe generally resists the kind of sentimentalism that smooths too many of the rough edges off unpalatable characters in his other films; the rock stars here retain enough of their warts that the only way to avoid being abused by them is ultimately to leave them behind (or to have one's mother give them a good talking-to).

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States