Monday, November 7, 2022

Music Men: Almost Famous and The Music Man

 Casey Likes and Solea Pfeiffer in Almost Famous. (Photo: Neal Preston)

Affable and well-acted and entertaining as it is, I’ve always thought that Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous, from 2000, was something of a crock. Crowe’s first career was as a rock journalist; at fifteen he got to travel with The Allman Brothers. So the picture, about a San Diego teenager named William Miller whose writing impresses Rolling Stone editor Ben Fong-Torres sufficiently to persuade Fong-Torres to let him go on the road with a band called Stillwater and write a profile on them, is autobiographical. And it must be the most romanticized coming-of-age memoir any writer has ever shaped. Crowe’s baby-faced protagonist (appealingly played by Patrick Fugit) never really falls from innocence. William’s possessive mother – his only surviving parent – drops her son off at the stadium for the Stillwater show she cries after him, “Don’t take drugs!,” and she repeats her warning when she takes him to the tour bus and in every one of her hysterical phone calls. It’s a culture joke: she’s meant to represent every parent in 1973 who ever feared losing her child to the rock ‘n’ roll vampires. But William takes her seriously. He travels all over the country with Stillwater, hangs out with them between shows and with the ebullient groupies known as the BandAids, and he never even smokes a joint. Crowe seems to be looking at his own adolescence through a haze. William eventually loses his virginity, but it doesn’t seem to alter him in any way. He counsels both his hero, the band’s guitarist Russell Hammond (Billy Crudup), and the leader of the BandAids, Penny Lane (Kate Hudson), Russell’s girlfriend on the road and the object of William’s first serious crush, liberating her and making him into a better human being. And in the end the kid’s story gets on the cover of Rolling Stone. William is a juvenile version of the knight whose purity of heart is rewarded at last.