To say that growing up is awkward in the best of circumstances doesn't quite encompass what it would be like to do so around those who you idolize. Few movies have really embodied this experience as well as Cameron Crowe's (loosely-auto-biographical) flick, Almost Famous (2000). In my view, it's one of the best movies about rock-and-roll, and the knocks that come from seeing the reality of your fantasies.
Some people love this movie because they want to be journalists, some musicians or critics, but what I really love about this movie is that it's about passion. I can relate to knowing what I wanted to do from a young age, and sharing that curiosity, that single-handed pursuit to find some answers in an overwhelming and personally uncharted landscape, is as engrossing as it is occasionally cringe-worthy. That's just good entertainment in my books.
At its core, Almost Famous idealizes both the positive and negative rock stereotypes with successful twists, painting a great visual portrait of the '70s scene. The fictional up-and-coming group Stillwater experiences an entertaining range of hiccups on their tour, as high school student William accompanies them to write an article on the group for Rolling Stone magazine. The scenes with Will are arguably the best, not only because he's playing a fly on the wall a lot of times, but because his vulnerability brings out the utter absurdity of the culture he's thrown into. Despite William's love of being there, his reactions and reasoning are often the glue holding things together in a cast of conflicting personalities and superficial egos.
Almost Famous has a grit and rawness about it that makes it feel genuine, almost like shuffling through a stack of old records. There are enough little pop history references mixed in to make even the casual music fan feel in-the-know. Even with the characters having pretty clear flaws, their predictability is kept in check by William's curiousity to understand it, and because of that everyone is along for the ride.
The relationships between Will and his mom, Will and Penny (the lead groupie), and Will and the band all paint a different picture of the rock lifestyle. It's apparent that the fine line between living the fantasy and dealing with the reality hits everyone hard when they suddenly stumble into either too quickly. And that's probably what I like best about Almost Famous, it makes you feel like you're right there on the bus, on that tour. You feel privy to inside information, and even though you know the fantasy can't last forever, you're still rooting for it to continue.
Cameron Crowe is great because he really thinks about the music that he uses. More often than not, he allows his song choices to really be featured in his films, not as a crutch to aid in false emotion, but as an exclamation point to enhance the scene and allow viewers to really listen to the lyrics. The Tiny Dancer scene in this flick is the clear standout, but there are numerous examples in his work (like Secret Garden in Jerry Maguire or In Your Eyes from Say Anything).
Almost Famous is addicting. And just maybe, it might leave you with that post-concert buzz, like you just skirted euphoria and witnessed something truly amazing.