Almost Famous

Movie Information

In Brief: The Asheville Film Society launches its monthlong tribute to Philip Seymour Hoffman with Cameron Crowe's Almost Famous (2000), a movie in which Hoffman had a supporting role as the cynical rock critic, Lester Bangs. It wasn't a big part — he has a handful of scenes throughout the film — but it was a distinctive role that everybody seems to remember, perhaps more than the film itself. The film is Crowe's semiautobiography — and it presents a clearly heartfelt summation of his feelings on rock music. It may not be quite as good as it seemed in 2000, but it's still good, and it's a key film for Hoffman.
Genre: Comedy-Drama with Music
Director: Cameron Crowe
Starring: Billy Crudup, Frances McDormand, Kate Hudson, Patrick Fugit, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jason Lee, Zooey Deschanel
Rated: R

The Asheville Film Society is dedicating the month of March to Philip Seymour Hoffman, and first up is Cameron Crowe’s Almost Famous (2000). It’s the only film being screened where Hoffman has what is very much a supporting role. But his performance as rock critic Lester Bangs (“I’m always home. I’m not cool”) is one that everyone seems to remember—even if the rest of the movie has become something of a blur. Even in 2000, a few critics suggested that Almost Famous might have been better had it been about Hoffman’s Lester Bangs. That’s a little ungenerous to the film itself, but there’s no denying Hoffman’s every appearance in the film is a highlight. Plus, in the long run, Almost Famous did him more good than anyone in the cast. At the time, that accolade would have been applied to Kate Hudson—except that she quickly proved her Penny Lane was her one really good performance. Now, it’s Hoffman.

The film itself—a quasi-autobiography of writer-director Cameron Crowe—is still good, but not as good as it seemed 14 years ago. It’s Crowe as William Miller (Patrick Fugit), a 15-year-old wanna-be rock critic, finding himself doing a long piece on a fictional band called Stillwater—a piece so involved that he goes on tour with them (much to his mother’s (Frances McDormand) chagrin). As a story, it mostly works. The characters are engaging and well acted, and the filmmaking is good at capturing the fantasy essence of the rock scene in 1973. It helps that Crowe clearly loves and believes in rock music of that era—deeply, sincerely (you find this even in his lesser movies). Often times, his use of music is brilliant. There is, in fact, one section in the film—though damaged by the decision to cut the music to a tractable length, which is distracting and jarring if you know the song—using Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer” that sums up Crowe’s views. Everyone is on the tour bus—tired, irritable, in some cases hungover, in others on the outs with each other—when the song comes on. The music slowly gets to them, bringing them back into connectivity by the healing power of the shared experience of the song. Even flawed as it is by the cutting, the message comes through. 

The Asheville Film Society will screen Almost Famous Tuesday, March 4, at 8 p.m. in Theater Six at The Carolina Asheville and will be hosted by Xpress movie critics Ken Hanke and Justin Souther.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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9 thoughts on “Almost Famous

  1. Jeremy Dylan

    I think I’m more fond of this than you are. I only saw it recently and found it such an emotionally authentic expression of pop music fandom that it really drew me in.

    That said, I had an identical reaction to you while watching the Tiny Dancer scene. It totally had me on the hook, only for the edit in the song to slightly jar me out of things.

  2. Ken Hanke

    See how it wears as you live with it. A few weeks, even six months after I first saw it, I thought more highly of it than I do now. And I still like it. I just don’t think it was as great as originally put forth.

  3. Lisa Watters

    Not to be contentious but if I could only take ten films to a desert island (that had electricity and a DVD player) this would be on my list. I haven’t watched it in a while but it’s one of those films that’s just pure joy for me.

    • bsummers

      If it comes to that, there will be more than one copy, right? ‘Cause it’s definitely on my list too. It’s so good on so many levels…

  4. Ken Hanke

    One’s desert isle list is never contentious, since it’s such a personal thing. I haven’t even tried making one of those in a long time.

  5. Ken Hanke

    If it comes to that, there will be more than one copy, right?

    I believe all things are allowed in this desert island biz.

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