“Almost Famous” DVD, Blu-ray Movie Review

2/03/2011 Posted by Admin

“Almost Famous”

DVD, Blu-ray Movie Review

Written and directed by Cameron Crowe, 124 minutes, rated R.

By Christopher Smith

Cameron Crowe’s “Almost Famous,” which is just out on Blu-ray disc, is about a 15-year-old boy coming of age in a world of rock stars, rock groupies, mind-bending drugs, sex, single motherhood and--underscoring it all with an exclamation point--the early 1970s.

At its core, it’s about the loss of innocence, certainly the loss of adolescence, but it wisely doesn’t trivialize the boy’s push into adulthood nor does it assume that adulthood comes at any great emotional cost.

The film is, in fact, in love with the idea of becoming an adult, which is no surprise when one considers it’s based in large part on Crowe’s own experience as a reporter for Rolling Stone in 1973. As Crowe tells it, everyone’s journey into adulthood should be this glamorous, this exciting, this harrowing, this sweet.

And he’s probably right.

His film follows his alter-ego William Miller (Patrick Fugit), a bright, precocious, yet woefully naive young man from San Diego who’s warned time and again by his eccentric mother, Elaine (Frances McDormand), not to listen to rock music. “They’re all on drugs,” she states, referring specifically to Simon and Garfunkel. “You’re to have no part of that.”

But when William’s wayward sister Anita (Zooey Deschanel) leaves him her stash of rock albums before skipping out of town to become a stewardess, she unwittingly changes his life.  William becomes hooked, so much so that he decides to devote his life to rock music as a critic--one on par with the man who will eventually become his mentor, the legendary rock critic Lester Bangs (Philip Seymour Hoffman).

Unabashedly nostalgic but rarely sentimentalized, William’s journey into the seductive world of rock begins with a staunch warning from Lester: “A critic has to make a reputation on being honest and unmerciful. Don’t make friends with the rock stars.”

Smart advice, but William can’t adhere to it. As he connects with the rock group Stillwater, a band he follows around the country after scoring a writing gig with Rolling Stone, he comes to intimately know the players, especially the lead guitarist Russell Hammond (Billy Crudup) and his girlfriend Penny Lane (Kate Hudson), both of whom forever change William’s life--but in wildly different ways.

Marked by its strong script and outstanding performances, particularly from Fugit, McDormand and Hudson (Goldie Hawn’s daughter), “Almost Famous” remains a shot in the arm for anyone tired of the dreck Hollywood has been unleashing over the past several weeks. It’s funny and honest, moving and memorable--a character-driven film about growing up in the 1970s that never once gives itself over to cheap cynicism.

And that, in the end, is Cameron Crowe’s feat.

Grade: A

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