Film Review: Almost Famous

It seems slightly strange that it has taken so long for me to see Almost Famous. And I don’t know why? Because as a movie, it seems to fit perfectly with that light-hearted comic exhale of relaxation film that I secretly enjoy. It reminds me so much of the earlier works of John Cussack, who created story after story (High Fidelity, Say Anything, Serendipity) of simple unpretentious love and idealistic life. Those almost guilty pleasure movies of nothingness hidden in the DVD collection. Watched in-often but remembered fondly.

And this oversight is even more bizarre when you start to look at the cast. Kate Hudson, Zooey Deschanel, Anna Paquin, Philip Seymour Hoffman. It’s an impressive ensemble and they have all gone on to feature in plenty of other movies – X-Men, Finding Forrester, The Hunger Games, Jack Goes Boating etc. – that I have watched, enjoyed and own; yet I still never bothered with Almost Famous. So long it’s absence that I start to wonder if I subconsciously turned away from it not for any other explainable reason than a case of ignoring it through age and routine rather than justification.

Patrick Fugit - Almost Famous

Having now watched the film I’m really not sure exactly where to start with my feelings about it. It certainly fits the tone and style of movie that I was expecting. It’s the type of film that you watch, and then describe as “a charmingly humane portrait of…” but that’s also the problem because while it’s not a heavy movie, and it’s engrossing and fun, it’s also fake and false and a bit too linear to really create a believable story you can imagine happening in real life.

This implausible plot is highlighted by Patrick Fugit as the lead character, faux-journalist William Miller. We’re given his age, and then asked to buy into this serious story surrounding his fortuitous luck and natural amiability that lead him to essentially get anything and everything, career wise at least, handed to him on a plate without a single question asked or suspicion raised. And I just found it too hard to accept. So much was my questioning of “really?” as situation after situation played out simply and superficially that I actually reached a point of wondering if this story was in fact based on truth because as the phrase goes “you couldn’t make it up!”

Kate Hudson & Patrick Fugit - Almost Famous

Even though the narrative plot of the film opens up implausible and unanswered question after question, it is still interesting and it kept me hooked and involved throughout. I was never fully absorbed by it though, my mind wandered a bit, usually reflecting on the film as explained, but it never felt like it was dragging or slow, I was certainly never bored. It also never felt like it was meandering or confused as to where it was going and it’s 2-hour running time felt neither elongated or rushed. It’s just a movie that takes you without apology from A to B in an inviting yet completely fictional way.

Kate Hudson for me is the stand out performance, and her character Penny Lenny, binds the film together. She is the central point to which you gravitate, providing you a constant reliance and likeability that means everyone else in the film can take free reign around her. You accept the flaws in the characters and the plot because emotionally you’re attached to her and so, to hate the film would mean hating her and she wins you over too much to do that. However much she provides a safety net to the film’s problems, I did find at times that as a foil against Fugit, there was just too much of a visual age gap to really accept. You forgive it because there are enough other characters around of varying age to dilute the problem in the short term but it highlights the long term narrative issue I have in that I just find Fugit too young to be in the scenario he is. Simply age him 3 years, make him 18 and everything feels mentally better.

Elton John Playing A Piano

Even if you look past the character issues and simplistic plot, it’s a tough ask to look past the gaping weakness that is the soundtrack. Almost Famous is set in the early 1970s, it’s based in the world of rock and roll and yet somehow there just isn’t the punch you’d expect it musically to pack. It’s noticeable that the strongest influence on the film comes from the piano of Elton John and when you think of all the other music that could have been involved: The Beatles, The Who, The Rolling Stones, Cream to name but four, you start to feel slightly let down. It’s not enough of an omission to feel cheated or completely destroy your relationship with the film but rather, I just felt it deserved better because it obvious that it’s missing.

And it’s this sense of deserving better than I think ultimately sums up my feelings about the film. It’s a close but not quite movie that is entertaining and enjoyable but not really believable or satisfying. It kept me entertained but my last memory is that I sat there watching and thinking that I would have preferred to be viewing a real documentary. It reminds me of the film Bobby. That the tale it wanted to tell would have been done better in a different way. It just feels like a lot of individual clichéd events sewn together and you just feel that you’d believe them more if you were told what happened by the people who lived through them, rather than twisting them into a fictional idea that fails to quite stand up.

7 out of 10 stars (7 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

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