Published Dec 13, 2019
Director Cameron Crowe has made a career out of iconic music moments. He got John Cusack to hoist a boombox over his head in 1989's Say Anything…, profiled the nascent Seattle grunge scene in 1992's Singles and celebrated the gods of alt-rock with 2011's Pearl Jam Twenty documentary. His music movie masterpiece is 2000's Almost Famous, a semi-autobiographical story loosely based on his own career as teenage journalist writing for Rolling Stone in the early 1970s.
In reality, a young Crowe rubbed shoulders with numerous bands who inspired the film, including the Allman Brothers Band, Led Zeppelin, the Eagles and Lynyrd Skynyrd. In Almost Famous, those groups appear as a composite in the form of Stillwater, an up-and-coming arena band with a hotshot guitarist (played by Billy Crudup).
Crowe is portrayed as William Miller (Patrick Fugit), an aspiring journalist who scores a big writing assignment with Rolling Stone when he's just 15. He follows Stillwater out on the road, where he falls in love with notorious groupie (ahem, "band aid") Penny Lane (Kate Hudson) and has a front row seat for Stillwater's wildest shenanigans: yelling "I am a golden god" while tripping at a party; almost dying in a plane crash; and getting involved in all sorts of ego-driven inter-band fights. For anyone who has ever dreamed of becoming a rock star — or a music journalist — it's an emotionally nuanced piece of wish fulfillment.
Of course, no '70s rock film would be complete without a great soundtrack, and Almost Famous delivers the goods. It's full of perfectly chosen song placements: William's sister Anita (Zooey Deschanel, in one of her first roles) leaving home to Simon & Garfunkel's "America"; the tour bus rolling through the countryside to Led Zeppelin's "That's the Way"; Penny Lane twirling through a garbage-strewn venue to Cat Stevens' "The Wind" following a gig. And who could forget the iconic Elton John sing-along, when the bickering bandmates bond over "Tiny Dancer."
Beyond the stellar principal cast — which features Frances McDormand as William's mom Elaine and Jason Lee as Stillwater singer Jeff Bebe — Almost Famous is rounded out by some big names in small roles. Philip Seymour Hoffman plays old-guard rock critic Lester Bangs, Anna Paquin is the band aid Polexia Aphrodisia, Jimmy Fallon is the hotshot manager Dennis Hope, Rainn Wilson is Rolling Stone editor David Felton and Mitch Hedberg plays a road manager. There's even an appearance from Mark Kozelek (of Sun Kil Moon and Red House Painters) as Stillwater's bassist.
Almost Famous was celebrated in its day — it was nominated for four Oscars (taking home top prize for Best Original Screenplay) and won two Golden Globes, while the soundtrack nabbed a Grammy. The film has continued to appear on best-of lists, and it paved the way for its almost-famous cast members to go on to even greater success.
Relive this iconic document of rock with Exclaim!'s Screenjams series: a celebration of music movies at Cineplex theatres.
Almost Famous is coming soon to a Cineplex theatre near you. Find full details here.