Thursday, February 05, 2009

92. Almost Famous (2000)

Directed by Cameron Crowe
Starring: Patrick Fugit, Kate Hudson, Billy Crudup, Frances McDormand, Philip Seymour Hoffman

If you haven't seen Almost Famous, have you been living in a cave? it's about a teenager who goes on tour with a rock band (without the permission of his mother, might I add) in the hope of getting an article about them published in coveted Rolling Stone magazine. The premise seems like an adolescent boy's dream: drink, drugs, girls, sex, but William (played by Patrick Fugit -- never to be seen much again after this) isn't really interested in all that. He'd much rather sit back and act the voyeur, judging and observing the crazy characters in the band's entourage, including groupie Penny Lane (Kate Hudson), who desperately wants to maintain her prominence as the band's 'it' girl.

Almost Famous is such a success because it's able to demonstrate the fine line between unknown and celebrity, and how quickly 'celebrities' can be banished to distant memory. Patrick watches a band struggle to stay in the limelight, a woman struggle to stay important to someone, and all the while risks the wrath of his mother and places his young trust in the hands of an alien community of people, most of which aren't all that responsible. He shares the aspiration of both Penny and the band but for much more cohesive artistic reasons than their insecure goals. The desire of so many characters to become "untouchable", without any consideration for what that means beyond continuity and the here and now, emerges as something very sinister and unhealthy. The gratuity and iconography of drinking and drugs are ever-present but it's difficult to look at them in that way, and we eventually come to William's conclusion that the people we're watching are no more together than a loosely-bound portfolio of media imagery, a frayed mess of ideas.

After a series of rows the group embark on a very awkward coach trip in which few people are on speaking terms with one another; the Elton John song 'Tiny Dancer' then plays, and eventually unites them in a sing-a-long. It's one of my favourite parts of the film because it shows how when away from distraction each is able to revert to the real reason they're there in the first place, the music, and it's the only way their community (like a band, almost) is ever harmonious. Most tellingly though, it alludes to our natural human desire of wanting to be consumed by something or someone (whether it be music, love, fame etc.) and like the "Almost" in the title suggests, nobody in this film ever really gets there.

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