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Movies That Rule: Almost Famous (2000)

One of my best friends asked me for my top five favorite films of all time while we chatted on Facebook a week ago.  Though we agreed that our favorite movies are constantly shifting, he insisted that one’s favorite three movies generally stay the same.  I don’t agree, but I’ll entertain the premise.  He regaled me with his sophisticated choices: Aguierre, the Wrath of God (1973), Apocalypse Now! (1979) and Barry Lyndon (1975).  I looked at those choices and immediately felt like a chump.  Herzog, Copolla, Kubrick.  Perhaps three of the finest directors of all time, all represented, all intense films that require extensive thought and English major-esque discussion afterward.  The first time I saw Barry Lyndon with this guy, we stayed up until 6:00 in the morning discussing the scenery and costumes.

“I have to go hit the bank quick,” he said.  “Think about it.  I’ll be back in a few minutes.”

He was at work, I was in the basement registering for courses.  I thought heavily for a minute.  My top ten lists are always lighthearted with a few heavies thrown in for good measure.  I adore the movies he mentioned (especially Aguierre), but when it comes to movie-going, my choices are seemingly (but, I’d argue, not) inconsequential: American Splendor, Stranger Than Fiction, Nobody’s Fool, Broadcast News, Dazed and Confused, Catch Me If You Can.  Not revolutionary pics, but thoroughly enjoyable and well-scripted ones that make you smile again and again and again.  The characters in each of these movies are memorable, interesting, and perfectly developed.  And, on an off night, you can always pop them in and enjoy the small nuances of each personality.

Anyway, my Top Three right now, as of late-April, 2010: Annie Hall, Five Easy Pieces, and Almost FamousFamous has never left my top three list, not since I was 16 years old.  My friend’s list is different in many ways, but when he came back, he looked at the list and chuckled.  I ardently defended Almost Famous before he spoke a word:  “Hey man, this is the most feel-good pic of all time…It’s nothing short of beautiful.  I know, it seems a little bit too…you know, not ‘70s, it’s not heavy like your shit…” I felt like I’d fucked up, choosing shit like Almost Famous when I should’ve picked Raging Bull or The Godfather.

But he cut me off mid-justification, laughed and agreed.  This movie makes you happy. Cameron Crowe makes the entire ‘70s rock spectacle—the drugs, the sex, the drinking—all surprisingly romantic, and that’s the pic’s greatest asset.  On a shitty night, you can throw Famous in and watch William Miller (Patrick Fugit) chase rockstars from Stillwater trying desperately to get his interviews.  It’s the life that many of us wished we lived at age 15.  Anyone with an ounce of taste wishes they were William Miller when they were 15, even if he is a total nerd.

Cameron Crowe directs a film that is nothing short of brilliant in depicting adolescence. He’s always been damn good at that—the teenager thing, that is.  He wrote the book that Amy Heckerling’s Fast Times at Ridgemont High was based on.  And he directed Say Anything…, one of the finest teen comedies of all time starring John Cusack, Ione Skye, and John Mahoney.

Say Anything…is nearly as good as Almost Famous.  If I taught a class on film, both movies would be required viewing, and Say Anything… would be a prerequisite to Almost Famous.  The former film tells the story of a shy valedictorian who accepts a date from the insanely quirky Lloyd Dobbler (Cusack) on a whim—he calls her, babbles nervously for a few uninterrupted seconds, and gets her to agree to one night of partying after he makes her chuckle.  It seems unlikely, and her dad (Mahoney) thinks she’s lost her marbles.  Lloyd has no future plans except kickboxing and hanging out with his burnout buddies outside the town’s gas station.  Diane Court (Skye), the valedictorian, is about to accept a study-abroad scholarship to further her studies.  It seems like a match made in hell—one of those first dates you’d think would work out about as well as the Vietnam War.

But, things do go well because Lloyd is a charming, caring guy, even when he seems sloppy and awkward on the surface.  He and Diane go to a party, stay out all night, and have a great time.  When she comes home in the morning, half-drunk and sleep-deprived, her father is surprised to find out that Lloyd was actually a wonderful date.  He doesn’t prod her, but shows only mild disapproval in his face.  Most movies about teenagers, including some of John Hughes’ best works, portray parents as alien creatures—eccentric, unbending, callous, soulless.  They’re always “forbidding” their kids to see characters like Lloyd Dobbler because they think he’s probably got about five or six screws loose.

The parent character in Say Anything…, as played by Mahoney, however, is intelligent, sometimes smarter than kids probably give him credit for.  He’s strict, and dislikes Lloyd very much, but he listens to his daughter and tries to accept her choices.  When he shows real concern that she’s seeing this guy, a kid with nothing resembling a career path, Diane understands.  She loves and respects her father, the man she chose to live with when her parents split up years before.  After Diane and Lloyd make love for the first time, she comes in the next morning to find her father outraged.  He yells for a time, but she quiets him down, and he hears what she has to say.  The rest of the film, full of surprises both wonderful and upsetting, never steps wrong.  But I’ll leave that for another review, one which I’ll certainly write in the very near future.

I introduce Almost Famous with a rambling about Say Anything… because both are similar in a few ways.  They both have strong, intelligent parent figures, independent adolescents (and young adults), and forces that threaten to tear those bonds apart.  In Say Anything…, Lloyd Dobbler is the guy that seemingly threatens to break the bond Diane Court and her father share and that agreement that they can “Say anything to each other.”  In Famous, it’s rock music (the sound and the lifestyle), the bane of William’s mother Elaine’s existence, that will ultimately challenge the sturdy mother-son bond.  When William finds himself on board the tour bus with upcoming rock group Stillwater, his mother fears she’ll lose him and that he’ll disregard the values she’s tried to instill in him for years since his father passed away.  As she aptly (and hilariously) puts it in one of her junior-college psychology lectures: “I’m sorry, I can’t concentrate.  Rock stars have kidnapped my son!”  And you realize Crowe isn’t simply using this as a joke throwaway line—she’s actually nervous, but that quip presents the problem in the most humorous way possible.

Elaine (Frances McDormand, in an Oscar-worthy supporting gig), a vegan intellectual, bans rock music in her home because she’s convinced everyone, including mellow folk-rockers Simon & Garfunkel, are stoned out of their gourds 90 percent of the time.  Her daughter (Zooey Deschanel, oh-so-sexy) runs off to be a stewardess early on in the film, citing her mother’s repressive behavior as a catalyst.  When she comes home with a record under her peacoat, her mom confiscates it and makes cutting remarks about the music she listen to.

In the opening scenes, William is only eleven years old.  His mother’s overbearing and progressive simultaneously, cooking soy cutlets, telling her kids that there’s “too much padding” between grades in elementary school, and screaming about Bookends and Blue.  She wants William to go to law school and model his life after the great litigator Abraham Lincoln.  William wants this very badly, too.  But when his sister takes off for San Francisco, things come to pass that change his mind.

William’s sister tells him that she left something important under his bed and that it will “set him free.”  In the next scene, we see eleven-year old William lighting a candle in his bedroom listening to “Sparks” by the Who, staring at the cover of Tommy. He looks at his sister’s vinyl collection for the first time as something sacred, gently touching the covers of Blonde on Blonde and Axis: Bold As Love as though he were examining books from 4000 BC.

He’s on the bus now, but has yet to join the tour.  As “Sparks” fades, time passes, and William’s a fifteen year old kid with acne, no friends, and a messenger bag full of binders with “The Who,” “Led Zeppelin,” “The Stooges,” and “Lester Bangs” graffitied on the front.  Contrary to his mom’s desires, he’s all but given up on the idea of law school, instead secretly writing articles for underground Southern California music newspapers and sending work to Bangs (a phenomenal Philip Seymour Hoffman), the famed rock critic for Creem magazine.  His bedroom illustrates the transition—next to his poster of Lincoln are pin-ups of the Allman Brothers and Jimi Hendrix.

William regards Lester Bangs as his new Abraham Lincoln, replacing the guy who knew everything about law with the guy who knows everything about rock music.  When William finally meets Bangs, the critic simply tells him “Rock and roll’s dead man…you’re just here for the last gasp, the death rattle.”  William, barely approaching puberty sincerely says, “At least I’m here for that.”  They sit down at a coffee shop after an amusing exchange (a better one appears on the extended cut of the film) while a Todd Rundgren tune plays in the background and Bangs talks about rock stars with utter contempt.  We see the ultimate connection between them quickly—they’re both hopelessly uncool, just two guys obsessed with rock music, one less cynical than the other because he lacks life experience.  Bangs closes out the conversation with one jovial request: “I’ve got thirty bucks.  Give me 1000 words on Black Sabbath.”

William rolls up to the Sabbath concert with his mother driving the family station wagon.  He’s a straight-A student so she still wants to make sure that his obsession with music is just a hobby.  She tells him, in a dead-serious voice, to use the family whistle if anything goes wrong, and as he leaves the passenger seat with his pen and notebook, she screams “Don’t take drugs!”  Not a great start to your career as a rock journalist.

But, in some twisted way, the stars align.  William runs into Penny Lane (Kate Hudson in one of her two or three good roles…ever), a self-proclaimed “band aide” (e.g. a groupie who won’t fuck the rockstars…”Just blowjobs, that’s it” one of her comrades remarks).  She’s a hippy-dippy girl with long blonde hair, trendy clothing, a shaky home life, and a year or two on William.  They’re immediate friends, but William falls in love with her as she joins some groupies backstage, practically leaving him to rot. Then, Stillwater, a mid-level band opening for Sabbath, arrives in an enormous tour bus, the ones that nowadays seem out of that glorious ‘70s rock mythology.  He tries to talk to them like he imagines a seasoned journalist would, but the manager tells him to “Fuck off!”

William’s knowledgeable and sincere enough to throw around some compliments so that he seems more than a critic, though.  In one of the best scenes in the film, the budding journalist improvises, telling Russell Hammond (Billy Crudup) that the guitar sound he’s fine-tuned is “incendiary.” Jeff Bebe (Jason Lee), the lead singer, is quickly taken.  “Hey man!” he yells, as William retreats up the ramp, figuring he’s just blown the deal.  “I’m incendiary too!”

And, like that, he’s in the door, interviewing the band, bullshitting with the roadies, and talking to Penny Lane about her real age.  When she finally says, “I’m 16!  Isn’t it funny, the truth just sounds different?,” William simply replies “I’m 15.”  Comedic gold.

After this really great set-up, the show continues on.  Sensing that William is a pushover, the guys from the band “make friends” with him (e.g. invite him to another one of their gigs at the ‘Riot House’) and he and Penny Lane come together, mostly so she can carry on an affair with Russell, her supposed true love.  William, still naïve, is unsure of the relationship between Penny and Russell, the virtuoso guitarist—but he gets his answer early on in the night as a groupie played by Anna Paquin describes it step-by-step as he gawks at their “relationship” by a not-that-secluded hotel ice-machine.

William returns home, misses no classes, bangs at his electric typewriter with excitement.  The phone rings.  In one second, he’s jolted into the big time.

“William Miller?  This is Ben Fong-Torres from Rolling Stone magazine.  We got a copy of one of your stories from the San Diego Door…this is solid stuff man…we think you should be writing for us.”

This part of Famous is perfectly played, as well.  The fifteen year old living at home with a single mother gets a call from one of the greatest rock journalists of all-time.  He quickly deepens his voice to sound older, instead sounding goofier.  They ask for a topic; he suggest Stillwater.  Torres likes the idea.  He lowballs William on payment, and the kid, so shocked that someone’s going to actually pay him to write about what he loves, doesn’t respond.  Rolling Stone ups the price.  And then his mom picks up the phone.

This is the kind of small scene someone like Cameron Crowe does best—a kind of throwback to intelligent ‘80s films where the kid gets caught doing something bad but somehow gets away with it because he isn’t a dunce.  Watching this part, with “Easy to Slip” by Little Feat chugging in the background, I realize that it’s a little inconsequential, but an important step in William’s maturity.  For the first time, he doesn’t have to beg to be taken seriously—the guys from Rolling Stone judge from his writing that he’s not a 15-year old nobody but an excellent journalist capable of covering a rock band (on the magazine’s tab, no less).

Once he’s on the bus for real, the goal is to get that one awesome interview with Russell Hammond, the guy who thinks he’s a little too good for the band he’s in, but stays with them because it’s a great touring gig and they’re selling records.  Crowe, as I mentioned before, was a budding journalist circa 1973, in his later teens, chasing Jimmy Page for an interview when he covered Led Zeppelin.  The film’s obviously based on his trials and tribulations.  Through many sleepless nights and brutal days, Crowe worked his ass off to get the interview—alas, he never quite got what he expected, but went on to write some of the best things Rolling Stone ever published.  (This includes a 1979 article on Neil Young, “The Last American Hero,” one of the most concise, hilarious, and intuitive pieces of rock journalism I’ve ever read.  You must look it up.)  And in Famous, William can get about 20 interviews with Jeff Bebe, but will spend the lion’s share of the pic chasing Russell Hammond for just those few great quotes.

Russell, a guitar hero modeled after rockers as diverse as Jimmy Page and Glen Frey, is one of Famous’s best characters, a cocky twenty-something with energy to burn.  He’s smart about music, but still very green.  He doesn’t understand the business aspect; hell, he resents it, much the way Lester Bangs despises the commercialization of his favorite type of music.  At one point, the record company suggest they bring on an experienced tour manager (a hilarious Jimmy Fallon), he thinks he’ll be selling out.  Minutes later, he, along with the rest of the band, realizes that they’re in debt for doing dumb rock-star shit in various dressing rooms and hotels across the country.  Later, when William calls his mother from the road, Russell steals the phone to joke with her for a few seconds.  In Frances McDormand’s best scene, she cuts the cocky bastard down, so much so that he reverts to calling her ma’am and apologizing for being an asshole.

Jeff Bebe is a talented vocalist, but not nearly as smart as he thinks he is.  If Crowe looks at Russell as the (somewhat) mature backbone of the band, he approaches Bebe with a sense of humor.  The singer’s the first one to ham it up with William backstage, claiming, “No one can explain rock and roll.  Well maybe Pete Townshend.”  He’s dead right, but anyone with a stereo and a dozen albums could give you that analysis.  Later, he talks about “the buzz” as the spirit of rock and roll, but his lone example of the buzz is “the chicks, the whatever, that is the fucking buzz!”  He sounds like a 25-year old guy shooting his mouth off like a second-rate stand-up comedian would in front of a cheering audience.

Both Russell’s and Jeff Bebe’s understanding of rock music is perfectly contrasted with Lester Bangs’s more accurate take on how soulless the enterprise had become in the early-1970s.  Bangs understands that 90% of the stars are talking like this, and thinks that this kind of mentality is what’s ruining rock music.  Bebe is just an image, someone trying to be Roger Daltrey or Robert Plant, and only marginally succeeding.  He’s so expendable that, when the band pulls up to a gas station to get food, they leave him in the men’s room.  He chases the bus out of the parking lot screaming “No, it’s okay!  I’m only the fucking lead singer!”

What I like most about the midsection of Famous, when William finally gets on the tour bus with Stillwater, is the interplay between Bebe, Hammond, and William.  The tension is evident—Russell, the exceptionally talented guitarist, musically surpassing Bebe and the rest of the band, and William quietly observing everything in the background, still desperately holding onto his notebook, tape recorder and pen.  Bebe, a hilarious egomaniac, has grand conceptions of what the Troy, Michigan band’s supposed to be.  When T-Shirts arrive, the entire band’s on the front.  But, Russell’s the only “in-focus” person—the rest of the band shadow’s him because he’s the best looking and the best musician. Bebe comments, “I’m just one of the out of focus guys!”  Through no fault of his own (possibly besides his ego), Russell’s been cast as the lead player in his own band through a savvy marketing campaign.

None of the other guys care much—they just talk about “going out to get some barbeque or something.” Bebe, who still wears the T-shirt from the “Jeff Bebe Band” years (circa 1969), still clings to the idea that they’re going to be like the Rolling Stones or Led Zeppelin, though I guess it isn’t out of the question.  When Russell gets top billing on the four-man shirt, Bebe exclaims that he and Russell were supposed to be like “Page and Plant; Mick and Keith.  I’m the frontman and you’re the guitarist with mystique!”

All along, William’s only trying to get his interview with Russell.  In the scene where the T-shirts are unveiled, he’s about to sit down and have a conversation, and things blow up real good.  Their manager, Dick, just gives up and says he’ll find a way to make the situation better, clearly unsure of what he’s actually supposed to do.  As the best friend of all the band members, he’s in a tough position, so he simply retreats, letting everyone just walk out and reclaim their bearings.

This true-to-life confrontation (my dad, when he roadied for a garage band, had a similar situation practically escalate into a break-up) eventually leads to Almost Famous’s best scene when Russell gets perturbed and decides that the best way to blow off some steam is to go meet some “real Topeka people.”  As they walk along the sidewalks, Russell and William have their first of just a couple of heart-to-hearts, where William pours his soul out in a few incredibly well-written lines of dialogue.  He babbles about his entire life just like Lloyd Dobbler spelled things out for Diane Court in the best scenes in Say Anything… But, before he’s finished, both characters are whisked away to a great party with a few local high-schoolers.  Then Russell takes acid…lots of it.

The hallucinogenic scenes are unrivaled in most modern “comedies,” especially because of Russell’s drug-induced monologues ranging from tacky lampshades to snakes to George Orwell.   These all build impeccably to the climax where he stands on the roof screaming “I AM A GOLDEN GOD!”  I want to elaborate, but I won’t, simply because you need to watch it unfold for the first time and laugh your ass off.  Even if you’ve never seen the movie, you’ve probably watched a clip of this on YouTube.

When the bus pulls up the next day to pick them up, Russell is wildly hungover, soaking wet, and wearing nothing but a bathing suit.  In a one-two punch, the next scene on the bus, after all of the fights, is not as funny but more powerful (because of the soundtrack, I venture) than those that preceded it.  It serves as a cathartic mid-point in the film where all the grudges between band members subside for a short time, at least until one spectacle on a small aircraft later in the film brings issues bubbling to the surface again.

The remainder of the film moves from one city to another at a breakneck pace.  William’s facing a deadline from Rolling Stone, Russell won’t sit down for an interview (at one point, William knocks on his door only to hear the guitarist screaming “PLEASE GO THE FUCK AWAY!”), and the band’s camaraderie again begins to splinter.  After being stuck with a new manager (Fallon) and an airplane so they can play more dates, thus making some more profit from the tour, we find out even dirt on Stillwater, America’s seventh or eight greatest rock band.

What’s even worse, Penny Lane, the cutest, sincerest groupie, gets traded to Humble Pie for a bizarre sum in a hazy road-manager card game.  Though I haven’t spoken much about her, Penny’s really the soul of the movie, the one who in some ways keeps the band together.  The term she uses to describe herself early on, band-aid, isn’t all that far off—she really loves Stillwater’s music, so much so that she wants to see Russell and crew succeed.  In a couple of key scenes without her, things between the band members usually go awry.

She tries to act older than her sixteen years, but her naïveté is always apparent (even more than William’s on occasion).  When William says “I have to go home!,” she simply responds with a goofy hand-gesture and tells him “You are home!”  She passionately remarks that all the guys in Stillwater are good, but that Russell is great.  “He’s my last project,” she quips pseuro-maturely, as though she’s truly going to be a part of his celebrity life, full-well knowing he’s engaged to another woman.

As much as I adore Penny Lane’s whimsical and youthful demeanor early on, her best scenes appear later in the film when her vulnerability comes gushing out and we see her not just as a groupie, but as a complex young woman who truly believes in Russell’s talent and is hurt by his frequent callousness.  It’s evident in one scene where her and William truly fight for the first time.  It’s unusual to see them aggravated with each other, especially since they’re young and such good friends all along.

Penny Lane: You’re too sweet for rock and roll.
William Miller: Sweet? Where do you get off? Where do you get sweet? I am dark and mysterious, and *pissed off*! And I could be very dangerous to all of you! I am not sweet! You should know that about me… I am *the enemy*!

She tries helplessly to maintain her demeanor, talking about “what Russell says to [her] in private” until William, in a thoughtless but truthful moment, tells her about the card game where she was sold to Humble Pie.  Watching her crack—not in a bogus way, but in the quietest way possible—is another one of the best moments I’ve ever seen in cinema.  And for those fleeting seconds, we realize how full of shit most movie teenagers are, and want to write a letter to Cameron Crowe thanking him for penning this brilliant, truthful, heartfelt scene.

What’s more, when I watch trash romantic comedies, I think only of this scene and wonder why advertising executives and journalists in movies like How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days lack this amount of poise, emotion, humor, and intelligence—in a word, substance.  How can people in their early-30s be stupider than these 16-year olds?  I digress.

From here, the film moves to New York and picks up immense speed.  William is facing deadline, Russell is unhappy with his wife’s arrival, the band’s fighting, and Penny is in a penthouse suite under the name Emily Rugburn, OD’ing on Quaaludes.

“Misty Mountain Hop” blares as the band, the new road manager, Dick, and William cruise over the bridge into New York City, setting the initial scene.  Ben Fong-Torres needs the beginnings of William’s piece immediately, but lets Jann Wenner give William a piece of valuable information.  You’d think this news would strengthen the fractured bonds between the musicians, but in the end, it makes things worse—again.

The next three scenes, the closest between Penny Lane and William Miller, are much like the earlier one—she’s drugged out, and he helps her.  Somehow the situation manages to be awfully funny, mostly because Penny is rambling through a drug induced stupor and William decides to “boldly go where many men have gone before.”  The next morning, one that’s gray and chilly, Penny reveals a secret to William that she’s never told anyone before.  And, the last scene William and Penny spend together in the film is just as good as the two preceding it.

Almost immediately, we’re transferred to the infamous plane ride, and we see the band again falling apart.  Russell tries to ease the tension by saying “I never said this enough before, but I love all of you.”  This starts off an epically funny chain reaction where each person confesses all the horrific things they’ve done to each other and to other people while the plane appears to be crashing into the ground.  And when the plane lands, the feeling is nothing short of melancholy, even as we laughed through that scene, we wouldn’t be surprised if the band broke up.

Of course, they don’t.  The movie’s been so joyous up until this point that we know somehow Stillwater will pull through for another tour, William will publish his story even after meeting serious adversity, and Russell and William will finally sit down and talk seriously.  None of these events are “surprising” at this point—rather, what’s actually surprising is how well the last fifteen minutes of the film are handled, how perfectly scripted they are, and how great Penny Lane’s last two very small appearances are.  And as “Tangerine” comes out of the surround-sound speakers, the dialogue sums it up:

William:  So, Russell, what do you love about music?

Russell: To begin with…everything.

***

Almost Famous secured four Oscar nods, not including Best Picture or Best Director.  While these are baffling oversights, one cannot really put faith in the Academy to nominate intelligent pictures, directors, actors, or actresses a great deal of the time.  Thankfully, both McDormand and Hudson were nominated for two of the best performances I saw during the 2000s.  Cameron Crowe won the best screenplay award, deservedly so.

Yet, the fact that Famous wasn’t nominated for Best Picture irks me no end.  Being John Malkovich, one of the absolute funniest and smartest pictures of 1999, was snubbed as well, so of course I shouldn’t be surprised.  I saw four of the best picture nominees for 2000—one was great, two were quite good, and the other was predictably lame.  Traffic, a brilliant ensemble piece about the futility of drug enforcement (among other things) was the only contender that even came close to being as good as Carmeron Crowe’s picture.  Out of all of the nominees that year, it should’ve won.   Gladiator, a good film, won the Best Picture category.  However, I cannot see why an action movie that boasted little more than great special effects and an average lead performance could take the statue.  And the fact that Chocolat, one of the most contrived, boring movies I’ve ever viewed, was even nominated is a total joke.

As movies go, Almost Famous is not a bullshit, feel-good picture.  There are plenty of romantic comedies out there like When Harry Met Sally and Sleepless in Seattle that are excellent on their own terms.  But to lump Famous in with them, as many moviewatchers have done in the past decade, does a serious disservice to Cameron Crowe’s vision.  Rarely have I seen better films about the way young people interact than Say Anything… and Almost Famous.  And watching both movies back to back, I realize that Crowe does something quite unique—he treats his younger characters with respect, perhaps with more respect even than renowned wonderful teen-picture director John Hughes.  Crowe’s kids (and even his twentysomethings in pics like Singles) aren’t boring, superficial people.  They’re remarkably intelligent, but caught up in the maelstrom of adolescence, trying so hard to be mature while every conceivable obstacle pushes back against them, telling them they’re too young to make adult decisions.  Yet, the adults in his pictures are tough and sympathetic.  And a lot of times, the adults are totally right.

Watching the last scenes in Almost Famous, you get a sense of this push-and-pull—the one between William Miller and his mother is resolved perfectly.  The kid doesn’t end up the “winner” or “being right all along” when it comes to travelling around with musicians. Instead, he arrives back home on the doorstep tired and beaten.  Rolling Stone might not publish his article, and a rock star, trying to avoid both responsibility and looking like a boastful prick, put him in this rough situation.  His mother doesn’t yell at him, asking inane things like “Where the hell have you been?” or “Why didn’t you call?”  She smiles empathetically as he stumbles in the door.

And reflecting on everything that’s gone on, we realize how subtle William’s character is.  At one moment he’s asking tough questions to rock stars, and conversing maturely with Penny Lane.  The next, he’s passed out on his single bed, fully clothed, pictures of rock stars and hero politicians strewn across the walls, just wanting to sleep, deeply hurt by the things that’ve happened to him on the road, thinking perhaps that he was a little bit too sweet for rock and roll.  At his age, unseasoned like the genius Lester Bangs (“You made friends with [the rock stars].”), he got swept up, began to trust the people he was interviewing, and didn’t quite find the answers he thought he would.

Strangely, when the final fleeting moments arrive, and things end on the happiest note possible, I felt myself in some kind of trance, like I’d just lived through a few weeks touring with a band and things had turned out perfectly.  I felt that I’d learned very much.  And I got the same feeling I did when I watched Say Anything… I confess, the ear-to-ear grin didn’t leave my face for quite some time.

Now, revisiting the conversation my college buddy and I had, I don’t feel foolish for picking Almost Famous as one of my three favorite movies.  In fact, I think that it’s a shame I was even a little embarrassed in the first place.  Writing over 5000 words about the movie doesn’t begin to do it justice.  I can only guarantee to any viewer the same reaction as mine afterward: an ear-to-ear grin you won’t be able to shake.

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