March 16, 2001 at 05:00 AM EST

Almost Famous

Current Status
In Season
124 minutes
Wide Release Date
Billy Crudup, Patrick Fugit, Kate Hudson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Frances McDormand, Anna Paquin
Cameron Crowe
Columbia Pictures
Cameron Crowe
We gave it an A-

Almost Famous is the tale of a 15-year-old rock journalist who latches on to a slow-witted band of second-tier ’70s sludge-rockers, lucks into a prestigious magazine assignment, falls in love with a luminous tart, and navigates increasingly confounding quandaries of journalistic ethics and parental supervision. It’s also, of course, the true tale of writer director Cameron Crowe, whose early career as a teenage Rolling Stone writer provided both the film’s inspiration and foundation.

Fortunately, the film is equally shaped by Crowe’s experience as a music fan, which saves it from the ’70s kitsch and coming-of-age clichés that might have doomed a less musically savvy movie. As William Miller’s (Patrick Fugit) sister announces at one point, ”This song [Simon & Garfunkel’s ”America”] explains why I’m leaving home to become a stewardess,” and Crowe, too, lets great pop songs do a lot of the work for him. Take the now (almost) famous ”Tiny Dancer” tour bus sing along, which is meant to suggest that a nomadic pack of rock hedonists is really no different from a nice suburban family, or a brief interlude in which ”band-aid” Penny Lane (the Oscar-nominated Kate Hudson) twirls around an empty concert venue like a dying ember while Cat Stevens’ ”The Wind” purrs on the soundtrack.

Expressed in words, this stuff is hopelessly cheeseball; in song, it feels like truth. After all, this is what good pop music does — it opens you up to real feelings you’d ordinarily dismiss as embarrassing or simplistic. With Almost Famous, Crowe serves a two-hour feast of corny notions about love, belonging, and honesty, all made palatable when heard through the filter of classic rock & roll tunes, and the result is as sappily, wonderfully poetic as an Elton John ballad.

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