You hadda be there

But rock journalist-director Cameron Crowe spills the beans.

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Initially, Almost Famous appears to be a rock and roll coming-of-age tale, with William Miller (Patrick Fugit) serving as the onscreen surrogate for writer-director Cameron Crowe, who began writing cover stories for Rolling Stone while still in his teens. It’s a fascinating premise: A young fan is allowed into the inner sanctum of rock during the hedonistic ’70s and makes a living recording his impressions.

What soon becomes apparent is that the adolescent Crowe was more mature than the majority of the rock stars he interviewed, possessing the ability to recognize another person’s distinct point of view and the talent to communicate it. So Almost Famous isn’t so much about William becoming an adult as the oddball group of people who surround him coming to terms with the consequences of their own actions.

William goes on tour with Stillwater, a band on the cusp of major fame, and observes the rivalry between the soulful guitar player Russell Hammond (Billy Crudup) and prima donna lead singer Jeff Bebe (Jason Lee). But his attention is also drawn to Penny Lane (Kate Hudson), head of a cluster of groupies who refer to themselves as "band-aids" and function as earnest muses. Meanwhile, William is receiving two very different types of advice from his ferociously protective mother, Elaine (Frances McDormand), and Lester Bangs (Philip Seymour Hoffman), the erudite rock critic he most admires.

Almost Famous is by turns funny and touching, frivolous and smart, and Cameron Crowe uses the often outrageous situations William finds himself in to comment on the contradictory nature of human relationships and the importance of recognizing genuine versus illusory connections. He juxtaposes fictionalized characters (the Allmansesque Stillwater) with real contemporaries such as Bangs, and it works because Crowe has formulated such a full-bodied portrait of the time, with its intoxicating brew of innocence and decadence.

Tying everything together is the music, and not just the film’s superbly constructed sound track. A pure devotion to music — beyond ego, beyond commerce — is what binds these characters together. Almost Famous isn’t a nostalgia piece about the heyday of rock. It’s about the active love of good music, and how that can transform lives and shape dreams. Corny as that may sound, it happens every day.

Read our review of the the sound track companion recording for Almost Famous.

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