Almost Famous - a fan letter

Dear Almost Famous, you rock!

After a considerable hiatus, I decided to sit down last night and watch a movie that both TLO and I are very fond of, Cameron Crowe's pseudo-memoir of his rock journalist days. It was a not-serious viewing: I fiddled around on magical revolutionary devices, made snacks, and let the film wash over me.

After 13 years, it holds up. It has a charming and melancholy atmosphere that is what attracts me to the movie first. It is also highly quotable.

The film was made in 2000 but set in 1973, and a great sport with such a film is to watch it from our present beyond-a-decade critical distance and decide if it feels true to the 1970s or true to the early 21st century.

I'm not sure. There are no grotesque anachronisms. I think the aesthetic (maybe the film stock or the colour timing?) is pretty 90s, but it's not outrageous. The movie at least feels true to itself.

The pace is relaxed, perhaps even more so in the "Untitled" extended cut version which I watched, but since I'm a fan, more Almost Famous is exactly what I wanted.

It has all the usual technical excellence: solid cinematography that evokes appropriate emotions. A soundtrack which has the easy benefit of containing great music (the music-rights budget for the film was much larger than typical, and it shows) and the songs are never out of place. Great actors acting well (you'll see Zooey Deschanel (being a little too Zooey Deschanel in retrospect, but this movie predates her famous work, so when you originally saw her strike a Deschanel pose and cock her head, before she was more famous, it did not read as the cliche it does today), Jimmy Fallon hiding under a crazy beard, Patrick Fugit delivering a quietly transparent turn as the young protagonist, Billy Crudup and Jason Lee doing solid work, and Frances McDormand nearly stealing the film as Mrs. Miller). The direction does nothing to attract attention to itself, which is good, and the script is remarkably quotable and supports a plot that feels true.

(And now I will pause to taunt certain persons with an old hobbyhorse: Almost Famous came out in 2000 and was critically acclaimed at the time and feels just as watchable today. American Beauty came out in 1999, was critically acclaimed, and I hated it upon first viewing. I think American Beauty has become only more ridiculous with the passage of time, a collection of vignettes and neuroses so completely burdened with witless late-90s pandering that it overwhelms the considerable acting talent on hand. As time passes, I think Almost Famous will gain acclaim, and American Beauty will be ever more forgotten. While we're at it, I just want to get out here that I have seen three movies directed by Sam Mendes, and the only one I came close to liking was Skyfall, which I would describe as an acceptable Bond film.)

I haven't watched a huge number of movies about Rock and Roll in the 1970s, but this film (which is ostensibly a quirky coming-of-age story about a precocious writer) claims to document so much of the era that it feels like no other movie is needed. If there's a critique, it's that this is a too-clean rendition of the era. That's a funny thing to say about a movie that depicts a quaalude overdose and the subsequent stomach-pumping, but this OD gets a fall-in-love-moment musical montage treatment, which is at the same time ironic and sincere.

Enough writing. Go watch the movie, it is good.