He's with the Band: Cameron Crowe Was Just 15 When He Hit the Road for Rolling Stone. the Director Relives His Youth in 'Almost Famous.'
Ansen, David, Newsweek
The music-crazed hero of Cameron Crowe's "Almost Famous" can't quite believe his luck. Here he is, all of 15 years old, on the road with the rock-and-roll band Stillwater, and Rolling Stone is paying him good money to write about it. (The magazine doesn't know how old he is: when it calls, he lowers his voice to disguise his youth.) Nervous, excited, grateful and confused, William (Patrick Fugit) is torn between being a fan and being a journalist. "Just make us look cool," says the very cool lead guitarist, Russell Hammond (Billy Crudup). On the other hand, William can't get the words of his cranky mentor, Lester Bangs (Philip Seymour Hoffman), out of his head: "You can't make friends with rock stars. These people are not your friends!" Making matters even more complicated (and embarrassing) are the phone messages his worried, protective mother (Frances McDormand) keeps leaving as she tracks his progress across the country: "Don't do drugs!"
This is not a predicament many 15-year-olds in the year 1973 found themselves in. But Crowe, the director of "Jerry Maguire" and the author of "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," knows whereof he speaks. At the same tender age he was a rock critic for Creem and Rolling Stone, covering the likes of Led Zeppelin and Neil Young. And like his fictional alter ego, he had a fretting but supportive mom back in San Diego, freaked that the unholy trinity of sex, drugs and rock and roll was about to devour her son.
In "Almost Famous," his most personal film, Crowe looks back at that pivotal moment in his life and transforms it into a delightful coming-of-age comedy. Though acid is dropped, groupies are bartered like poker chips and rock-star egos flare like fireworks, what comes through is the relative innocence of that era. Rock and roll had not yet totally succumbed to the corporate spirit. There's a sweetness that suffuses the film, a quality that belongs both to the filmmaker and to his alter ego William, through whose brainy but awed eyes we are looking. William pines for a groupie called Penny Lane, who's played by Goldie Hawn's daughter, Kate Hudson. "I'm not sweet!" he yells at her. "I'm dark and mysterious."
"Almost Famous" is sunny, poignant and often hilarious. …