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, his touring with 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|
|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 musical heroes—these events represented in the film as happening to William Miller (Fugit), the boyish main character.
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 life is further complicated after learning that his widowed college-professor mother Elaine has falsely led him to believe he is twelve years old. William is actually eleven, having started the first grade at five years old, and skipping fifth grade. Strong-willed Elaine's strict ban on rock music and pop culture influences that she fears have a negative effect on her children finally drives William's eighteen-year-old sister Anita to leave home to become a flight attendant.
In 1973, William, now fifteen, influenced by Anita'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 William's writing, gives him a $35 assignment to review a Black Sabbath concert. William is barred from backstage until the opening band Stillwater arrives and William flatters his way in. Lead guitarist Russell Hammond takes a liking to him and his new acquaintance, veteran groupie Penny Lane, who has taken William under her wing. Despite behaving as stereotypical groupies, Penny Lane insists she and her friends are "band aids", a term she apparently invented to describe female fans that are there for the music and less so for the rock stars themselves.
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 and not helped at all by the band's first tee shirt, a full band shot that pictures Russell in full view while the rest of the band is virtually in shadows. William is jokingly called "the enemy" by the band because he is a journalist, but all the same begins to lose his objectivity as he becomes integrated into their inner circle.
The band's record company hires Dennis, a professional manager, to handle problems with venues and promoters. Penny has to leave before the band reaches New York, where Russell's girlfriend Leslie will join them. Penny and her three protégée band aids are gambled away to another band in a poker game; Penny acts nonchalant but is devastated. Meanwhile, Dennis charters a small plane so the band can play more gigs.
Penny shows up uninvited at the New York restaurant where the band is celebrating the news that they are to be featured on the cover of Rolling Stone. Penny is asked to leave after Leslie notices her attempts to get Russell's attention. William chases her to her hotel, where he saves her from overdosing on quaaludes.
While flying to another gig the following day, the band's plane encounters severe weather. Believing the plane will crash, everyone confesses their secrets, while Jeff and Russell's long-simmering conflicts erupt. William defends Penny after Jeff insults her and confesses he loves her. The plane lands safely in Tupelo, leaving everyone to ponder the changed atmosphere.
William arrives at the Rolling Stone office in San Francisco but has difficulty finishing the article. Seeking help, he calls Lester Bangs who says William got caught up in being part of the band. He says William's perceived friendships with them are not real and advises him to "be honest...and unmerciful." Rolling Stone's editors rave over William's completed article, but when the magazine's fact checker calls the band, Russell lies to protect Stillwater's image and claims 90% is false. Rolling Stone kills the article, crushing William. Anita encounters a dejected William in the airport and offers to take him anywhere; he chooses for them to go to their home in San Diego.
Groupie Sapphire chastises Russell for betraying William. Russell calls Penny at her home and wants to meet with her, but she tricks him by giving him William's address. 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 an interview. Russell has verified William's article to Rolling Stone, which runs it as a cover feature. Penny fulfills her long-standing fantasy to go to Morocco while Stillwater tours again 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
- Peter Frampton as Reg
- Mitch Hedberg as Eagles road manager
Crowe used a composite of the bands he had known to create Stillwater, the emerging group 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. 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.
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. On Rotten Tomatoes it holds an 89% approval rating, based on 166 reviews, with an average rating of 7.92/10. 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." On Metacritic it has a score of 90 out of 100, 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." Richard Corliss of Time 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." Peter Travers of Rolling Stone 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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