A couple of years ago, in a post about a book by Phil Dellio, I wrote a few words about Almost Famous:
I realize I've never written about Almost Famous. Not sure why ... I certainly think about it a lot.... Cameron Crowe, god love him, was an example of what went wrong at Rolling Stone. And the way Crowe works Lester Bangs into the story ... well, I suspect Philip Seymour Hoffman got him right, and for all I know, Bangs and Crowe were good buddies, but Lester Bangs was not about the Rolling Stone of the post-Crowe era. I love Almost Famous because I love Hoffman as Lester ... I am irritated by Almost Famous because of what it does to the Lester I admire....
The problem as I see it is that the movie does not criticize the anti-Bangs position, but celebrates it. It's complicated because Lester is clearly loved in the movie, but the puff pieces Crowe wrote (and I read 'em and liked 'em, don't get me wrong) were key to the gradual move of RS into a friendlier relationship with big artists and, eventually, big companies in general. Lester warns William (the Crowe stand-in) not to get friendly with the stars, and at the end, he says "Aw, man. You made friends with them." And later, "I know you think those guys are your friends. You wanna be a true friend to them? Be honest, and unmerciful." So Lester gets his say, but the story of William's coming of age is so wonderful, we can't help but be happy for him.
I had never experienced what I'd call an accidental viewing. Sure, if I'm channel surfing and I see The Godfather, I stop and watch for awhile. But in this case, I was on YouTube, and I saw they had Almost Famous "free with ads". So I decided I'd watch until the first ad popped up. Well, probably thanks to the ad blocker I use on YouTube, I never saw an ad, and thus I ended up watching the whole movie.
I love this movie so much, but what I say above still bothers me. Lester advises William to be honest and unmerciful, and in the end, with the blessings of Billy Crudup's character, William writes what appears to be something Lester would approve of. But Cameron Crowe became known because his frequent pieces on rock bands were honest but also merciful, so much so that the story goes that many acts asked for Crowe to be the writer if Rolling Stone was going to feature them. In Almost Famous, Crowe uses Lester Bangs as a fountain of truth (and Lester is the only character whose name isn't a stand-in for the "real" person). But the "real" Cameron Crowe didn't follow Lester's style. It's not a case of better or worse ... as I said above, I always liked Crowe's portraits of artists. But there's something off about how this works out in the movie.
Meanwhile, there are so many great performances in Almost Famous. Maybe it's the casting as much as the acting, but these characters seem real. Billy Crudup is who you'd want to play you in a movie about your life. Philip Seymour Hoffman embodies Lester Bangs. Kate Hudson got her only Oscar nomination for Penny Lane ... she lights up the screen, and also plays her more somber moments on target. There's a reason the poster for the movie is of Penny Lane.
Here is the most famous scene in the movie:
And here is a reunion among Crowe, Crudup, Hudson, and Patrick Fugit who played "Cameron Crowe":